Museums and Civic Responsibility


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A talk given to the 2013 conference of the Association of Art Museum Curators during a panel discussion about Museums and Civic Responsibility.

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Museums and Civic Responsibility

  1. 1. MuseumsCivic Robert SteinDeputy DirectorDallas Museum of Art@rjsteinAND responsibility
  2. 2. Museums have a civicresponsibilityMuseums Are:•A Public Resource•Educational Venues•Tax Exempt•Recipients of Charitable Giving•Recipients of Federal Support•Collectors of Cultural Heritage
  3. 3. Clearlymuseums aretrustedAccording to a study by IndianaUniversity, museums areconsidered a more reliable sourceof historical information thanbooks, teachers, or even personalaccounts by grandparents.
  4. 4. But are theyvital?The 2010 U.S. census reports that only 14.5% of USAdults visited museums in the prior 12 months(Census, 2012).8%Dallas = 6.5M People - 500k Annual Attendance
  5. 5. CivicEngagementHOW ABOUTINSTEAD?1.Transforming Access2.Embracing a Culture of Participation3.Seeking Out Public Dialog
  6. 6. TransformingAccessUNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural DiversityArticle 6While ensuring the free flow of ideas by word and image care shouldbe exercised so that all cultures can express themselves and makethemselves known. Freedom of expression, media pluralism,multilingualism, equal access to art and to scientific andtechnological knowledge, including in digital form, and thepossibility for all cultures to have access to the means of expressionand dissemination are the guarantees of cultural diversity.UNESCO, 2001
  7. 7. equal Access to ARTParticipation in cultural activities, together with access tothem, forms the backbone of human rights pertaining toculture. Access is a precondition for participation andparticipation is indispensable to ensure the exercising ofhuman rights.Annamari Laaksonen, of the International Federation of Arts Councils andCulture Agencies, 2011.
  8. 8. Bridgingthe Culture GapIf social inclusion means anything, it meansactively seeking out and removing barriers, ofacknowledging that people who have been leftout for generations need additional support in awhole variety of ways to enable them to exercisetheir rights to participate in many of the facilitiesthat the better off and better educated take forgranted.O’Neill, Mark. 2002. The good enough visitor. In Museums, Society, Inequality,Richard Sandell, ed., 24–40. London and New York: Routledge.
  10. 10. welcoming new citizens
  12. 12. When you can slip into a gallery for just 15 minutes to see a favoritepainting, or when parents can take their children without having tobudget for it, the museum takes on a societal function. Its no longerjust a fortress or an amusement: its a civic platform, where educationand citizenship go hand in hand.For Dallas, a museum membership should be like a library card:everyone should have one, and it should foster an engagement withthe museum that goes beyond the occasional visit to a kind of civicpride.I hope it works. Because in a perpetually privatizing world, the kind ofcivic culture that the Dallas Museum of Art is trying to foster hasbecome rarer than any antiquity.Jason Farago, The Guardian, London, 11/30/2012WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING?
  13. 13. A participatory culture is a culture withrelatively low barriers to artistic expressionand civic engagement, strong support forcreating and sharing one’s creations, andsome type of informal mentorship wherebywhat is known by the most experienced ispassed along to novices. A participatoryculture is also one in which membersbelieve their contributions matter, and feelsome degree of social connection with oneanother.Participatory culture is emerging as theculture absorbs and responds to theexplosion of new media technologies thatmake it possible for average consumers toarchive, annotate, appropriate, andrecirculate media content in powerful newways. Jenkins, Henry. 2006. “Confronting the Challenges ofParticipatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.”Embracing A Culture ofParticipation
  14. 14. An information explosion
  15. 15. An information explosionWhile discretesources of onlineinformation growwithout limitThe ability todiscriminate qualitysources is increasinglymore difficult
  16. 16. A Pressing needfor Digital MediaLiteracyArt Museums are the PerfectPlace to Learn about Media in allits Forms
  17. 17. Seeking outpublic dialog
  18. 18. Authoritative Authoritarianauthority
  19. 19. A role for museumsin civic dialogThere is a growing movement to reinvigorate civic dialogue as vital dimension of ahealthy democracy, based on the premise that a democracy is animated by an informedpublic engaged in the issues affecting their daily lives. Civic dialogue plays an essentialrole in this process, giving voice to multiple perspectives and enabling people todevelop more multifaceted, humane, and realistic views of complex issues and of eachother. Yet opportunities for civic dialogue in this country have diminished in recentyears, due mainly to polarization of opinion along ideological, racial, gender, and classlines; social structures that separate rich from poor and majorities from minorities; asense of individual disempowerment; and the overwhelming nature of many of society’sproblems. Perhaps most fundamentally, the fact that modern problems usually affectdifferent people in different ways often places them outside of the traditional civicorganizations, labor unions, and political parties that organized civic discourse in thepast.Barbara Schaffer Bacon, Pam Korza, and Patricia E. Williams, “Giving Voice: A Role for Museums in Civic Dialogue” (paper prepared for a Museums & Community Toolkit, AmericanAssociation of Museums, 2002).
  20. 20. civic functionmuseumstheofhas many facets
  21. 21. thank you! Robert SteinDeputy DirectorDallas Museum of Art@rjstein