Revitalising the South African Museum Sector: New Museological Trends

Revitalising the South African Museum Sector: New Museological Trends

Helene Vollgraaff (University of South Africa, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3137-1.ch018


The chapter discusses the South African museum sector in terms of changing museum functions as well as museum management. The research findings confirm the perception of a sector in crisis. Museum professional associations do not have the capacity to promote a professional museum service. Though there are museum professionals that keep up to date with museological trends and technology, a picture is painted of museums not supported by government departments, debilitating bureaucratic structures that hamper creativity and responsiveness to public demands, institutional performance structures that direct museums away from museum functions, problematic recruitment practices, and problematic models assessing the value of museums. Research is based on literature study, a review of the South African Museums Association Bulletin (SAMAB), a peer-reviewed journal dealing with museum matters, an analysis of policy recommendations of museum professional associations and interviews with the museum association leadership.
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Models, Concepts And Theories

Many of the pressures to South African museums to transform are not particular to the South African context, but experienced by museums worldwide. During the last five decades, museums have evolved from being mainly research and educational institutions to becoming social institutions that not only research, document and communicate cultural and natural heritage, but also actively shape society. Concerns regarding equality, social justice and human rights have taken centre stage (Nightingale & Sandell, 2012, p. 1).

The ICOM definition of museums, adopted in 2007, combines the conventional core functions of acquisition, conservation, research, communication and exhibition of collections with the emphasis on the role of a museum as an “…institution in the service of society and its development…” (Mairesse, 2010, p. 19). This role is elaborated on in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Recommendation on the Protection and Promotion Museums and Collections which was formally adopted by the General Conference on 17 November 2015.

[…] dating back to the Declaration of Santiago Chile (1972), modern museums are increasingly viewed in all countries as playing a key role in the social system and as a factor in social integration. In this sense, they can help communities face profound changes in society, including those leading to the rise in social inequality, the impoverishment of some classes in society and the breakdown of social ties. Museums present themselves as places that are particularly open to all and are highly sensitive to the idea of providing access to everyone; in particular, this entails those who are the most fragile and most alienated and who, due to financial reasons, physical difficulties or education, do not normally visit cultural or natural sites. They constitute places of reflection and transformation for the development of human rights and gender equality within society. As an agent for social inclusion, the museum also constitutes a specific medium for questioning and discussing current societal challenges. (UNESCO, 2015)

Key Terms in this Chapter

New Museology: The term refers to a new approach to museum practice that appeared at the end of the 1980s. New Museology reflects a greater awareness of the social and political role of museums and encompasses meaningful community participation in curatorial practices.

Social media: Computer-mediated technologies that facilitate sharing of ideas and information. Within museum practice, social media facilitate inclusive participative curatorial practices.

Agents of Social Change: Within the context of museum practice, this term refers to the role of museums to actively shape society in addition to merely documenting and reflecting on it. This approach implies that museums should address sensitive social issues.

Museum Value Models: Analysis of museum performance in terms of the value it contributes to society or alternatively, the impact of museum programmes on society.

Community-Based Curatorial Practice: People-centred curatorial practices use methodologies that enable communities to actively participate in and impact on curatorial decisions. Community-based curatorial practice acknowledges that local communities and users of the museums’ services contribute to knowledge generation and perspectives in a meaningful way.

Curatorial Practice: Curatorial activities refer to the activities that forms part of the core functions of museums, namely research (research, interpretation), collection management (documentation, conservation) and communication (exhibitions, education and public programming). Curatorial practice refers to methodologies and professional standards grounding these activities. In New Museology, it is acknowledged that curatorial practice is not value neutral, but reflects power relations.

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