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Entrepreneurship in the Arts: Entrepreneurship in Museums

  1. Abstract

This is the Kenneth Myer Lecture for the 2002 George Fairfax Fellowship at Deakin University, Melbourne, 5 April 2002.


The ultimate goal of entrepreneurship in museums must be the enhancement of the visitors’ experience of interaction with the authentic object and the increase in understanding and knowledge. The focus on long-term benefit to the visitor and cohesive leadership found in the best museums significantly assists productive change and entrepreneurship.

Les Baux, Provence (More)
Entrepreneurship or innovation, new products for new audiences, customers or markets flourishes where people of diverse skills and backgrounds communicate in a substantially autonomous environment, or at least one isolated from established bureaucratic processes and values. Long-term commitment, genuine interest and feedback on the part of leadership is essential. Preparedness to invest resources, considered judgement and the ability to cope with ambiguity assist substantially.

The continual encouragement of ideas is especially important. Values carefully developed within the museum and committed to by staff are productive. So is training of people to work in teams and communicate person to person. Attention to recruitment and development of leaders at all levels is especially critical.

Entertainment has been simplistically adopted as one of the means of gaining more visitors but there is less understanding of the learning experience in museums than is necessary for the pursuit of entrepreneurial approaches to improving the visitor experience. Many in the media have criticised museums for that yet confused populism and popularity, attributed high visitor numbers to dramatic buildings, free entry or the use of technology or asserted simply that the numbers are wrong.

Actual visits to the physical museum have increased at some museums although it was believed that visits would decline as people took advantage of the opportunities of cyberspace. Most museums have entered cyberspace but not all have exploited fully the opportunities to enhance intellectual and physical resources of the museum and learning. Access to collections has improved but genuine documentation needs attention.

The use of structure and downsizing to achieve change, short-term contracts for executives and other aspects of managerialism stifle innovation and divert attention from the important. Arguments between professional groups about power and authority are generally unhelpful, but common in museums. Coercive approaches to change can be justified only in dysfunctional organisations.

Innovation contributes not just to coping with change but to influencing its direction – in a way that advances the organization as well. To promote innovation we must encourage and trust people more, focus much more on serious thinking and understanding other people and seek and support cohesive leadership. Most of all we must recognise that museums can learn much from other people and organisations: museums are organisations like any other.