The New ICOM Museum Definition


The museum, as we know it, is an institution that preserves and interprets a certain element of a culture’s collective cultural consciousness. It can have a broad and diverse scope of activities or it may be focused on the cult of a single object. Some museums were founded to foster scholarly and educational pursuits, others to boost civic pride and bolster nationalistic endeavours. Nevertheless, there is one aspect that unites them: the desire to collect and share.

For many people the word “museum” conjures up images of hushed halls, filled with revered words of art or perhaps a collection of living insects. But the reality is that museums are so much more than that. They’re institutions with a mission to serve the public – to teach, entertain and inspire – and that has helped them build stellar reputations.

To achieve this goal museums must have a clear vision and a well-defined purpose. Museums have a unique advantage in their ability to communicate that purpose, as they are viewed as trusted sources of knowledge and information. As such, museums can set their own agenda for public engagement – something that is more difficult for companies to do.

The new definition also emphasises the importance of diversity, inclusion and accessibility in museum practice. It points out that museums should be democratising and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and futures. They should hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories and ensure equal access to heritage for all.

Whether it be through exhibitions, outreach programs or community conversations, museums are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact on their communities. The new ICOM definition is a great step forward in ensuring that museums continue to have the power to elevate their audiences and contribute to a more enlightened world.

A version of this article originally appeared on CxO, an independent platform for news and opinion for the global C-suite. Sign up to receive the latest insights, advice and ideas for top decision makers.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has announced the passing of a new definition for museums at its Extraordinary General Assembly in Prague, Czech Republic. This definition reflects a shift from the more traditional, scholarly focus on objects to an understanding of museums as democratic educational institutions for the public. This change is a direct result of the growing movement for adult education. The definition states that “the primary purpose and responsibility of museums is to educate in all its varied forms, from the most scholarly research to the simple arousing of curiosity.” By embracing this new definition, ICOM has taken a bold step towards realising the full potential of the museum as a public service.