Who or what are museums for? the essence of the museum message

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Museums strive paradoxically for inclusivity and diversity. They are increasingly funded and measured like sewage and roads, with accompanying targets for visitor numbers and ‘hard-to reach’ audiences. UK public funding is limited and museums consequently seek to widen audiences. The time and skilled resources necessary to reach disadvantaged and alienated teenagers are vastly more than those for middle-aged educated middle-class visitors, but the results are awe-inspiring, for teenagers and staff. Such results cannot be quantified like metres of sewage pipes, housing for the elderly or repaired roads. Current expectations are that museums should be ‘hands on’, virtual, exciting, interactive, but with little understanding of what that should be. Pressing buttons is an action, but is it educational, or even entertaining? Awe and wonder at the strange and unknown is what first made museums exciting places to visit and makes them exciting places today. Instead of replicating games and arcades, museums should focus on what they do uniquely: take the visitor to a place different from his/her normal existence, physically, intellectually and imaginatively. Museums can thereby communicate individual and universal messages. Informed by teaching MSc Heritage and Museum Studies at the University of Portsmouth, Dr Ann Coats will return the debate, through literature and example, to core principles of how museums can communicate best with their visitors. There are many places for electronic and digital technology in the inclusive museum, but not at the expense of losing the awe and magic. In this instance the medium is not the message.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalThe International Journal of the Inclusive Museum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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