Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

The Entertainment Imperative

Australian Museum free weekend. Photo: Roy Weilland. Source: Australian Museum.

Gina Fairley, Museums struggle with the entertainment imperative, ArtsHub, 29 July 2105

First it was blockbusters, then architecture-branded museums, now slides and merry-go-rounds. Is it possible to be too entertaining?

Nick Mitzevich, Director of Art Gallery of South Australia has made no secret of his ambition: ‘You know I love the word popular – there is nothing wrong with being popular.

He added with a more serious tone: ‘You have to be ambitious in how you interact with a city, with the culture in the country, and your audience. Australian art needs people to be ambitious.’

In 2013, The Economist reported that there were ‘at least 55,000 museums across the world, more than double the number 20 years ago. And new ones are being built every day, especially in China, where more than 450 were opened last year.’

With that embrace comes two things: competition and democratisation.

No longer are our museums silent hallowed halls – walking into the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of NSW or Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art on a weekend, for example, their forecourts and long galleries are bustling with families, the aged, selfie-obsessed teenagers, and guide-clutching tourists.

Museums have never been so popular as they are now.

Each year, The Art Newspaper pulls together data from over 500 museums and galleries globally and more than 1,800 exhibitions to create a top 100, ranked exclusively on attendance.

Some purists have asked whether the pendulum has swung too far in the chase for attendance figures and the sponsorship dollar? Has programming become unbalanced?

Tim Reynolds, Director of the National Museum of Computing, was quoted in an British article last year: ‘The tension in reconciling what the museum feels duty-bound to present with what consumers show that they want, is likely to lead to an even greater emphasis on entertainment.’

Beyond the façade

Kim McKay, Director of the Australian Museum, is a great proponent of museums being outward facing. She announced to colleagues at this year’s Museums Australia Conference: ‘I wanted to make us more transparent so people see into the museum; to make it more inviting and contemporary.’

McKay is leading the Museum through a change in it’s façade from College Street to William Street Sydney, with the addition of what she describes as a ‘big glass box as our entry’, creating something that communicates through the architecture.

It is not a new idea but one that speaks of a savvy and necessary branding of the museum in our times.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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