I really enjoyed meeting Sir Nicholas Serota this weekend at the National Gallery Singapore for his Museum as a Forum talk. He is the former Director of the Tate art galleries and museums, the current Chair of the National Arts Council of England and non-executive Director of the BBC Executive Board.
He talked about how much museums have changed over the last fifty years, evolving from places of instruction, where scholarly knowledge was imparted to a passive audience in a teacher-pupil relationship. Today, forward thinking museums are places that champion life long learning, visual literacy and understanding. They should encourage collaboration with the public and provoke debate and exchange through their art programming.
This is certainly not the case for all but understanding the need to engage with the public by representing their diversity and immersing their program in society is crucial. Museums now face the challenge of remaining relevant to their audiences but that also presents an opportunity – to harness this new appetite for debate, reflection and participation to create meaningful dialogue and experiences through art. It was reassuring that he talked so much about the importance of cultural mediation and arts engagement for the future success of arts spaces. It’s always great to hear confirmation of your passion and work.
During the Q&A, I asked Sir Nicholas what he thought were the barriers to more museums adopting culturally relevant, diverse and immersive experiences into their programming. He said that he thought it was because a lot of traditional institutions have not had a culture of adopting or experimenting with these practices in the past and they are not in the habit of approaching programming and curation in that way. Secondly, he cited fear as a barrier. I think that this is probably the biggest hurdle for most institutions seeking change.
In the sphere of arts and cultural mediation, I design and deliver arts engagement experiences for adults so that they understand art better. I wholeheartedly agree that museums should be forums for debate, discussion, reflection and learning. I believe it is crucial to the future success of museums, internationally, and through the work I am doing, I am excited to be a part of that change.
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