After 40 percent loss in operating budget, Glenbow became most financially self-sufficient of 10 largest museums in Canada

The study in question is Museums and the Paradox of Change, Third Edition (2013, 1997, 1995).

A blurb for the book (see link above) begins with the following opening paragraph:

“Museums throughout the world are under increasing pressure in the wake of the 2008/2009 economic recession and the many pressing social and environmental issues that are assuming priority. The major focus of concern in the global museum community is the sustainability of museums in light of these pressures, not to mention falling attendance and the challenges of the digital world.”

[End of excerpt]


I enjoy this book because it is well written and thoughtful and gives a person a sense of the changes that have occurred in society following the 2008 recession.

A good way to assess the changes, that have occurred in society in recent years, is to consider the changes that have been forced upon museums.

The challenge they have faced, if I understand correctly, can be expressed as: “Change or die.”

The book discusses many topics of interest – including the question of “Why?” with regard to the existence of museums, and questions that relate to civil society.

What is the nature of civil society?

The nature of civil society is of interest to me. To the extent that we have what is characterized as a civil society, we as members of the community have the opportunity to have a say in decisions that directly affect us:

We support community-driven urban planning at the City of Toronto

What is worth preserving, and for what purpose?

With regard to the role of museums, the question of what is worth preserving in a civil society comes to mind. I’ve addressed the question at previous posts including:

What is worth preserving?

Heritage preservation relates to a wider conversation

Historically significant places of worship are usually closely linked with their faith communities, according to the Ontario Heritage Act

A related topic concerns the wider context within which civil society operates:

Can the term “neoliberalism” be turned into a useful analytic tool?

Museums and the Paradox of Change (2013, 1997, 1995)

Assuming that you have any interest in museums – or, as the case may be, assuming that you don’t have much in the way of interest in museums at all – Museums and the Paradox of Change warrants close study.

By way of rounding out the discussion, and by way of encouraging you to borrow the book from your local public library, and to read it, or at least to read excerpts from it, as I have done, below is a quotation (pp. 213-214) from the study chosen at random. The quotation is from the closing remarks at Chapter 5, “Commentaries from the field: New needs for new times”; the author is Ellyn Koster:

“I agree with Robert Janes at the conclusion of his second edition [note 25] (repro­duced on p. 173 of this edition) that ‘the notion of the civil society might be a useful way to think about the role of museums in contemporary society.’ However, as a proponent of the overdue need for long-term, multidisciplinary approaches in every sector, [note 26] society in my mind can only pass the test of being truly civil if it embraces a holistic view of all living things, as well as of all the natural processes and resources in our planetary home.

“Museums are, at least potentially, a well-qualified means to vital societal and environmental ends. The three editions of Museums and the Paradox of Change are a concerted wake-up call for our sector’s needed journey towards greater relevancy. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the museum field will have an exemplar of so-called, blue ocean strategy, [note 27] defined as ‘uncontested market space’ that achieves both market relevance and financial strength in a totally refreshing and enduring way.

“In an interview before a recent keynote address to an international museum audience, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson cautioned: [note 28] ‘If in 2050 we were delivering the same messages, either we’ve failed at affecting change in society and still needed to give those messages, or we just got left behind and we were no longer on the frontier of what mattered in society.’ ”

[End of excerpt]


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