Museums, Society, Inequality

By Richard Sandell | Go to book overview

16

Positioning the museum for social inclusion

David Fleming

Traditionally, museums have not been positioned to contribute to social inclusion 1 for four reasons: who has run them; what they contain; the way they have been run; and what they have been perceived to be for - to put this last reason another way, for whom they have been run.

Because of these factors, museums have restricted themselves to serving the interests of an educated and prosperous minority, which has jealously guarded its privileged access. Museums became publicly funded, yet private and exclusive clubs, annexed by self-seeking interests because of the museum’s cultural authority and power. Contrary to at least some of the principles according to which most museums were created, museums have not been democratic, inclusive organisations, but agents of social exclusion, and not by accident but by design.

Writing from a British perspective, this chapter analyses these factors (which, together, I would describe as the Great Museum Conspiracy) and the structures and practices that predominate in museums, to consider how as organisations they might become better positioned to contribute towards social inclusion.


The Great Museum Conspiracy

Who has run them

Coming from a prosperous, middle-class background with the benefit of a good education is not a criminal offence, so one wonders why many of those who do are so reluctant to discuss it. The museum profession is one wherein the positions of power - curatorships and directorships - have traditionally been occupied by people with a good education, usually involving attendance at university, and an academic degree as a qualification. By definition, this has meant that such people have come from an environment wherein they have enjoyed parental encouragement to study at school, and to remain there until they are 17 or 18. There was not pressure upon them to get out of school as quickly as possible, find a job, and earn a living.

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