What is a museum?

Fair Museum Jobs was recently published in the University of Leicester Museological Review with our response to the question “What is a museum to you today?” Read our response to the question below.

Colourful sign saying 'Museum' at Waterloo Region Museum, Kitchener, Canada


These are values that every visitor would agree with. Museums need to be able to weather storms. Museums need to reflect their societies. Museums need to be powerful forces to advocate for those who have been under-represented.

Museums are their workers. Every act a museum does, every exhibition, every conversation, every database entry, every meme is done by a worker (whether paid or unpaid) and it follows that it is our workers who define our museums. Who we are and what principles we hold will always fundamentally shape our institutions.

It follows that our workers (whether paid or unpaid) must be:

Representative of all society.

If these principles define our museums and galleries, they must define us and our colleagues too. Do they? Can we talk about a resilient workforce when zero-hour contracts are routine? Can we claim relevance when the majority of our staff are white, female and middle-class? Can we be representative as our workforce recruitment is slow to change?

At Fair Museum Jobs we see daily cases where recruitment favours those who “know the system” or who have financial privilege to work for free. We see organisations reject change so they can de-value equivalent experience and value only academic qualifications.

So what is a museum now? Today a museum is limited by its recruitment practices and strangling its own growth through poor policies.

Yet there is museum hope.

Museums have more than ever the potential to be places of hope. We see that hope through changes to job descriptions to be more inclusive, through the expansion of a variety of routes into the sector and how these changes are beginning to open us up so we can tell stories increasingly relevant to us all. We can show alternatives to status quo and ways to mitigate negative consequences of our actions on society and climate. To sustain this hope, we need to change our workforce and to give us all hope.

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