Museums – from Civic Institutions to participants in Civil Society

tonybutler's blog

I followed with interest, last weeks debate at the Social History Curators Conference in Cardiff last week – Are visitors the new curators?Sharon Heal has since given a good account of proceedings.  I agreed with ‘floor’ which rejected the motion, not because I think communities shouldn’t co-create museum activity but because I’m not sure most museum’s institutional values enable co-production, however progressive their leadership.

A museum’s view of communities as active partners depends on whether they see themselves primarily as civic institutions or part of civil society. I’d define the Civic Realm is ‘the local state’ comprising of organisations and institutions governed by political representatives. Here citizens participate in groups like local health boards, school governing bodies and perhaps in a museum’s case, user panels. This is great, but ultimately these bodies are appointed by and under the control of the local state.

By contrast Civil Society is characterised…

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