Editorial | Remaining relevant is key to public support

Simon Stephens, Issue 119/11, 01.11.2019
No one wants to be irrelevant, and for museums it is vital not only to be seen as trusted institutions, but also as places that respond positively to people’s interests, passions and concerns. And over the past 20 years or so, as the sector has turned to face the public more squarely, there has been a lot of great work going on to make museums more engaging.

The Museums Association’s Empowering Collections report, published in April, addresses the issue of relevance head on, stating: “Museums have made great strides in growing audience numbers in recent years and now bring more people than ever into contact with public collections. However, there is still much to do in making collections relevant to the widest possible audience.”

This issue of Museums Journal features lots of examples of how museums are doing just that. Museums with agricultural collections are thinking hard about how they maintain their relevance in a society in which many people feel disconnected from the countryside (p6). 

They are doing this by engaging with contemporary concerns, including the climate crisis and even decolonisation – not a subject that many would immediately associate with rural life. There is also a feature on decolonisation itself, and how that debate needs to lead to real change (p26).

We have a feature on textiles and how museums are looking at these collections with fresh eyes, to make displays and exhibitions relevant to modern audiences (p20). The article argues that textiles have often been sidelined in museums in the past because they are often made by, and for, women.

And we have a positive review about North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin (p44). Our writer praises the venue for being “just what a modern local history museum should be like”, with its strong sense of place and displays that tell compelling stories about local people and their lives.

For museums to continue to flourish, it is vital that they become even closer to their audiences and involve them in their work. This will help guarantee that museums and their collections retain their relevance for the public and, in turn, their continued support. 

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal