Defining Times

Dear UMAC colleagues and friends

It is my great privilege to be the new Chair of a new UMAC Board.

For those who don’t know me, here’s a little background. I’ve worked in university museums and collections for most of my professional life and have been involved with UMAC since their 2002 conference in Sydney, Australia.

UMAC was formed 21 years ago as an International Committee of ICOM. We are one of 32 International Committees that are important parts of ICOM’s structure. International committees get set up for all sorts of reasons. They are defined by the different reasons for their establishment. It could be what they collect, what sort of museum they are, or because of a focus on a particular museum process such as conservation or museum training. International committees are a response to an identified need within the ICOM membership and broader community.

We were established because our defining feature was the institutional context, being part of the higher education sector. We are a relatively young committee but we have an organisational pedigree that goes back to antiquity.

Many of us who are UMAC members believe that material collections when used creatively, or in fact when used at all; can greatly benefit the business of higher education. We are important to higher education because museums and collections are gateways to inter-disciplinarity and multiple epistemologies. If a university doesn’t have material collections and/or museums, it’s probably more in the business of transmitting knowledge rather than generating knowledge.

At a time when the world faces many challenges, here’s a basic proposition; society desperately needs a new relationship with knowledge. University museums and collections are structures that breach the boundary between the academy and civil society, so we are the obvious brokers of that relationship.

One of the reasons we were originally established back at the start of the millennium, in a period sometimes referred to as a ‘crisis’ in university museums was a perception that some university leaders didn’t realise the potential value of museums and collections to their business. At the time there were questions of relevance and purpose and many material collections were being abandoned by their academic custodians as pedagogies and research practices changed dramatically. There was also a feeling in many quarters that those working with and in university museums and collections were marginalised from the mainstream of the museum profession.

In the time since our establishment as an International Committee of ICOM we have convinced some of our value, but the recent pandemic-related chaos in higher education has shown there are still many more who also need convincing.

Furthermore, we are in a critical time period where both museums and universities, as organisations, are changing from being independent points of cultural and scientific authority to being part of a network of cultural and scientific agency.

You now have a new UMAC Board made up of some new and some returning people who are all passionate about what museums and collections can do in higher education. We’ll start the same way previous Board did, with a new strategic plan, one that reflects the new 2022 to 2028 strategic plan of ICOM.

I’d like to thank and acknowledge the hard work of the previous (2019-2022) Board led by Marta Lourenço. They did a superlative job of advancing our cause and leave us with a great legacy to build on. Marta has been an active, engaged, dynamic and focussed UMAC leader for the last 6 years, and we have made significant achievements and advances under her leadership.

Now we must build on our successful projects on ethics and pedagogy, and look at instigating new projects with new partners. We will continue to build our membership base, particularly in areas that have not traditionally been well represented in ICOM – Africa, China, much of Asia.

As a membership group, our achievements are built on membership participation and activity. We must continue to convene, discuss issues, share experiences and knowledge, learn from each other and support each other. There is still very much for us as an organisation to do.

So as we embark on a new phase in our history, if you have any input you would like to make to our new strategic plan, or in fact any thoughts about what UMAC should do, please contact me directly at this address ( and your new Board will see if we can make it happen.

Best regards

Andrew Simpson

Chau Chak Wing Museum

The University of Sydney

22 October 2022


Past President Message:
Marta C. Lourenço – Belonging to a vibrant global community