Be afraid...

March 4 2013

The Grumpy Art Historian informs me of 'the latest debate' in the museum world here in the UK, as set out by Maurice Davies of the Museums Association:

Increasingly museums want to be more explicit about improving people’s lives and strengthening communities. In the UK this has led to two different approaches emerging: social justice and wellbeing. [...]

Social justice museums and wellbeing museums aim to do pretty much the same things and achieve the same ends. They use their assets of collections, buildings, knowledge and networks to help create a fairer society, in which people live better lives. But there are some philosophical differences.

Social justice focuses on areas such as human rights, inequality and poverty. It believes the state should strongly intervene in communities. With origins on the left, it is perhaps red.

Wellbeing prioritises concepts such as self-help, local organisation and relationships. It stresses the role of civil society organisations, such as charities and community groups, to complement the work of the state, whose main role is to help local communities flourish so they can find their own solutions. It has its recent origins, at least in part, in the green movement.

Personally, I may be colour-blind, but I can’t see very much difference between these versions of red and green. Yet in my work on Museums 2020 I sense rumbling disagreements between the groups, with social justice people thinking wellbeing people are a bit wet and naïve about the realities of disadvantaged people’s lives. Conversely, wellbeing people think social justice people are a bit too top down and doctrinaire.

Yikes. If you ever needed a warning that museums and politics don't mix, this is it. It must also be a sign that some curators and directors have too much time on their hands.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.