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Archive for August, 2007

Future Leaders

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

In the last couple of months, directors of at least four museums have resigned or announced their impending retirement and there is ongoing speculation about the possibility of Philippe de Montebello retiring from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (There is an interesting post on this by culturegrrl [Who Should Succeed Philippe at the Met? November 13, 2006 ) and I mentioned another article on this in a previous post.

In the USA Timothy Potts will leave the Kimbell Art Museum in September. Lisa Dennison (a 29-year veteran of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum who became its director less than two years ago), has resigned to join Sotheby’s auction house. In Australia, Kevin Fewster resigned in July from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney to take the directorship of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in Britain and Alan Dodge announced his intention to retire from the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In Britain Charles Saumarez Smith has resigned from the National Gallery in London to go to the Royal Academy. And all that follows of course the announcement some time ago of the resignation of Lawrence Small as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (though some would not consider that a museum position, relevant thought it is).

In The New York Times for July 29, 2007, Jori Finkel (“Impossible Job. Here’s What You Need for It”) noted that 24 of the 200 or so members of the Association of Art Museum Directors were in search of leaders in July, including the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The AAMD’s executive director observed that this was as great a number as some 20 years ago!

In the normal course of events this would be regarded as not unusual. The trouble is that not only is the museum community (or profession) not doing very much about succession, except for a few places where there are courses on leadership development, the nature of the job and the expectations for it have not varied in 20 years except that the demands placed on incumbents have grown. And the attitudes of boards and governments have not developed in the light of events. It is still a matter of wanting someone who will raise money and behave like a business person as well as be an expert on the content area of the museum, such as art history. And board members are no more inclined to understand what genuine support of executive staff means or even of what being a director of a non profit board is. Of course there are exceptions, or perhaps the troubling instances are exceptions. But they are sufficient to be a great worry.

One person who has studied this tells me that boards often appoint someone completely different from the previous incumbent; some museums continue to make the same kind of mistakes, others having to open the search process several times. As I have said, many boards simply do not understand what support of the CEO means.

Continue to essay.

New Links

Friday, August 10th, 2007

A number of additional links have been included on the links page. These include AEA Consulting, which features a magazine entitled Platform with articles such as a major review of the arts in California.

The 24-hour Museum promotes itself as an official guide to UK museums, galleries, exhibitions and heritage and a “Gateway to over 3,000 UK museums, galleries and heritage attractions”.

The National Museum Directors’ Conference represents the leaders of the UK’s national museums and galleries. is the website of Tom Flynn Art Advisory Services.

Almost 200 blogs concerning every aspect of museums around the world are listed at the Museum Blogs website

Continue to the Links page.

Declaration of the Universal Museum – an Update

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Note: This update includes references to some of the items concerning the Declaration from 2004 through mid 2007. The previous references can be found here.

In early December 2002, nineteen of the world’s top art museums issued a statement firmly opposing the repatriation of cultural material. Attention was drawn to the continuing claims by various countries and peoples for return of collections held in the major museums of the world.

Debate on this issue has continued in conferences, on websites and in journals.

Although at the time, it was claimed that return of Aboriginal human remains from museums in Britain to Australia would be hampered by the Declaration, it would seem from recent events concerning material of human remains from Tasmania in The Natural History Museum in London that no reliance was placed in the Declaration. Rather the issue concerns objects created by people.

Nor has the Declaration been the basis for any aspect of the negotiations between art museums in the USA and the Italian Government over classical archaeological items alleged to have been stolen. There are notes about this later.

We can recall that the British Museum asserts that it “is a universal museum holding an encyclopaedic collection of material from across the world and all periods of human culture and history. For the benefit of its audience now and in the future, the Museum is committed to sustaining and improving its collection”.

The British Museum was significantly involved in the adoption of this Declaration and its director, Neil MacGregor, has vigorously defended it.

Continue to article.

New publications

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Two new publications have appeared in the last few months.

2007: With Janette Griffin, Lynn Baum, Jane Blankman-Hetrick, Julie I Johnson, Christine A. Reich and Shawn Roe, Optimizing Learning Opportunities in Museums: The Role of Organizational Culture. Pp 153-165 In John H. Falk, Lyn D. Dierking and Susan Foutz (editors) In Principle, In Practice. Lanham MD: Altamira Press. (Go to Publisher’s site.)

This chapter, in a volume which comes from a conference organised by the Institute for Learning Innovation in Annapolis MD, explores the relationship between successful exhibitions and the culture of the museum, the proposition that a cohesive organisation is significantly more likely to produce better exhibitions. The proposition is almost naïve yet not frequently explored and not an approach to which much attention seems to be paid in museums themselves.

There has been great attention recently to exhibitions however. One of the more interesting is the volume “Are we there yet? Conversations about Best Practices in Science Exhibition Development” (K. McLean and C. EcEver (eds). San Francisco, CA: The Exploratorium). When the Exploratorium brought people together to discuss “best practice” in science exhibition development, Kathleen McLean made the point that while various items could be identified which characterised good exhibition development, ones which promoted good outcomes for the visitor, these could not be considered a checklist for success or a panacea for exhibition development. Jay Rounds (University of Missouri, St Louis) pointed out, “a rigid standardisation of practice is a recipe for disaster. What worked yesterday probably will not work tomorrow and we have no reliable way of predicting what will. Such times call for experiments and innovations that might work well in the new environment we need strategies that can counter these initial tendencies and foster innovation, exploration and discovery of new possibilities”.

2007: with M. Abraham, The Effective Management of Museums: Cohesive Leadership and Visitor Focused Public Programming Chapter 7 in Richard Sandell & Robert R. Janes (editors), Museum Management and Marketing. Leicester: Routledge. (Reprinted from Museum Management and Curatorship 18 (4), 335-368 (2000): go to Publisher’s site.)

This paper was the final paper in the series dealing with the study of some 30 museums around the world which aimed to find what characterised the “most effective museums”. The study is summarised elsewhere on this site.

Aboriginal Remains: An update

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

This post summarises some of the background to the decision in early May 2007 by The Natural History Museum in London to return remains of Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The decision followed months of wrangling and argument and an appeal to the High Court. The decision follows the handing down of the Report from the Working Group on Human Remains. The strong disagreement of some people remains. The claim for return was lodged by the Australian Government in November 2005 on behalf of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC).

Matthew Denholm & Peter Wilson (Museum bones legal fight ‘a waste’ of $1m in The Australian February 24, 2007) reported that an Aboriginal group had broken ranks to oppose costly legal action aimed at stopping a British museum conducting tests on indigenous remains. Tasmania’s Lia Pootah community yesterday attacked the case against London’s Natural History Museum as a waste of money, as lawyers predicted legal fees could top $1 million.

Lia Pootah spokeswoman Kaye McPherson said taxpayers’ money would be better directed to indigenous education and cultural programs. She said the DNA and other tests proposed by the museum might have benefits for Aboriginal Australians, a point backed by Mr Mundine. “There is a very emotional balancing act,” Mr Mundine said. “What was done ( taking of Aboriginal remains) is nothing short of horrible. At the same time, there has been some research that has come out of this which could have been good.”

Recently Professor Richard Lane, Director of Science at the Museum said (on ABC Radio National’s “Science Show” 7 July 2007), “These are the first [remains] that we have actually returned. I think both parties started in one place and have ended up somewhere different, quite a learning [sic] for both sides. For the museum community I think it’s about articulating more clearly the scientific benefits to the claimant communities, as opposed to the scientific benefits to all of us.”

Earlier Julia May (in the Sydney Morning Herald, May 12 2007), reported Richard Lane as praising the mediation process and said that this decision would set a precedent. “I think it does change the arena; we’re finding ways that we can balance the needs of the scientific community with the various Australian Aboriginal communities.”

There are, and have been for many decades, widely different views on these kinds of issue. Jocelyn Nettlefold (ABC TV’s 7.30 Report on 21 February) reported the. Michael Mansell (Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre), “They [the remains] were effectively grave-robbed. People dug them up so that they could donate them to institutions overseas.” Professor Robert Foley, Evolutionary Anthropologist (Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge), “To see any of it lost and gone forever is, to my mind, a very sad and tragic event.” Mark Stephens, Solicitor: “It may enable one scientist at the Natural History Museum to write an extra paper, but it’s not going to contribute to sum total of human knowledge, it’s not going to prevent disease. It’s not going to do anything which is going to be otherwise irreplaceable to science and, in those circumstances, there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for this mawkish examination by scientists.”

Natural History Museum director Dr Michael Dixon, said, “They tell a very interesting story about human evolution and the evolution of Tasmanian Aboriginals themselves.”

Continue to article.