Museums and Universal Heritage.
Universities in Transition - Responsibilities for Heritage
UMAC's 7th International Conference
19 - 24 August 2007, Vienna, Austria, within the ICOM General Conference
General information: http://www.icom-oesterreich.at/2007/index.html
"The role of museums is changing fundamentally and rapidly". This statement from the general introduction to ICOM's 2007 triennial meeting in Vienna is "doubly true" for university museums, as they belong to two rapidly changing worlds: the academic world and the "world outside". Both worlds are in transition, affecting university museums as they function on the interface between universities and society at large.
ICOM's definition of a museum makes us believe that museums are still holistic institutions with a balanced attention for each of their core tasks: the care for their collections, and for scholarly research and exhibitions based on those collections. This however is increasingly no longer the case. In reality many collections are no longer curated by 'their' keepers, but kept in 'collections centres' to be looked after by professional collections managers; object-based research is being out-sourced and the Kunsthalle and Science Centre have become accepted members of the museum family - even though the latter make exhibitions without a single real object. Museums are not only split in these three progressively more autonomous parts (exhibitions, collections and research) but are supposed to 'earn' a substantial part of their budget and to adjust to the whim of each new political trend.
University museums are simultaneously confronted with the question how to address these challenges, and how to cope with the crisis within their parent institutions, as they function at the intersection between the museum-world - as part of a wider intellectual, sociological, political and economic panorama - and the university - as institutions for higher research and education.
Universities themselves are in an identity crisis, as age-old academic traditions and values are under pressure due to disappearance of borders between disciplines, integration of ICT, drastic budget cuts and aggressive market-oriented international competition. These changes have huge impact on what universities demand and expect from their museums. Originally custodians of the object as primary source of knowledge for the scholarly learning of a select academic audience, their new role is to perform as the university's showcase for the public at large. The transition from within the heart of the academic community to the university's interface with society at large, in combination with the shift of emphasis from object-based research to the promotion of the public understanding of science, has dramatic effects on both composition and skills of the staff and hence on their ability to act as custodians of academic heritage. Meanwhile, objects continue be the primary source of information for many fields of research, object-based research continues to be performed and there is a growing awareness of the importance - and economic value - of collections as database.
University museums have to respond to these challenges, either as a result of their parent institutions being in transition, or because museums themselves are in transition, or both. This implies not only a re-valuation of our three fundamental missions: research, teaching and public display, but also the question how that affects our heritage, both tangible and intangible.
The theme of UMAC's 7th International Conference therefore focuses on the effects of transition of universities and the effect thereof on collections, and how that relates to the universal responsibility of museums, universities and governments.
UMAC members encompass museums of all academic disciplines; each of them will be affected by these transitions in a different way and each will choose a different approach and strategy to secure the museum's mission.
UMAC's Conference Board 2007 invites participants to report on how they - each in their specific and therefore unique situation - respond to these challenges and to share experiences and best practices.
Steven de Clercq (Netherlands), Monika Knofler (Austria), Nicholas Merriman (United Kingdom), Andrew Simpson (Australia), Peter Stanbury (Australia), Graciela de la Torre (Mexico), Cornelia Weber (Germany)