C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
A Tribute to Stephen Weil
September 13 - 15, 2006 at Dunsmuir Lodge
Organized through the Cultural Resource Management Program at the University of Victoria in collaboration with the Getty Leadership Institute
Contact: Joy Davis, Program Director, firstname.lastname@example.org; 250-721-8462
Many of the key themes that preoccupy museums, galleries, and other cultural heritage institutions today have their roots in the writings of the late Stephen Weil, Emeritus Senior Scholar of the Smithsonian Institution and former Deputy Director of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Social responsibility, civic engagement, good governance, accountability, performance measures, and a meaningful role for cultural organizations within the social economy are all topics that his writings explored with originality, insight, rigour, and passion. With his passing in August 2005, the cultural heritage and museum sector lost a compelling voice for positive and meaningful change.
To honour and continue Stephen Weil's important thinking about museums and their roles, the Cultural Resource Management Program at the University of Victoria (where Steve taught on four occasions), in cooperation with the Getty Leadership Institute and a small planning group, is convening a tribute to Steve involving approximately 50 participants in September 2006, that will focus on the ways that museums and other cultural heritage organizations play meaningful roles in contemporary society. This gathering will generate new perspectives on the changing role of museums, will provide both senior and emerging professionals with opportunities to reflect on current and future practice, and will strengthen international relationships among leaders in the sector. Papers and commentaries will be published in a special issue of CURATOR: The Museum Journal, as well as other journals that serve the museum field, and it is our hope that key presentation(s) will be available as Webcasts to ensure broad access for those who are interested in the ideas generated through this gathering.
September 13 - 15, 2006
Dunsmuir Lodge, University of Victoria (on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia) where Steve taught on a number of occasions (http://www.dunsmuirlodge.com/)
The ad hoc group includes...
- Gail Anderson, Museum Consultant
- Joy Davis, Director, Cultural Resource Management Program, University of Victoria
- Zahava Doering, Editor, Curator
- Nancy Fuller, Research Manager, Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies
- Lori Gross, Director, Museum Loan Network
- Elaine Heumann Gurian, Museum Consultant
- Kim Igoe, Vice President, Policy and Programs with the American Association of Museums
- Phillip Nowlen, Executive Director, Getty Leadership Institute
- Wendy Luke, Luke Weil & Associates
- Carol Mayer, Head, Curatorial Department, University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology
- Martin Segger, Director, Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery at the University of Victoria
To date, over 45 invited participants have confirmed their intent to attend and to contribute to the gathering. These people are invited on the basis of their contributions to the cultural heritage field, their writing, and their reputation for innovative thinking. While many of them have personal connections with Stephen Weil, others have been invited as their work and writing build on or critique themes that were the subject of his writing and work. We expect to add up to 10 more participants as the program is finalized and as people's schedules are confirmed. A particular priority is to welcome and support the participation of up to eight emerging professionals who are identified by a range of museum studies programs in Canada and the United States.
It is our expectation that a number of publishable papers (approximately 8,000 words) will be prepared and circulated in advance so that, during the sessions, presentations of approximately twenty minutes on key concepts will be provided by the authors, commentaries will be offered by other participants, and lively discussions will ensue. In keeping with the way in which Steve liked to plan similar workshops at Dunsmuir Lodge, time for congenial discussion and debate, reflective moments, and opportunities for shared meals and social times will be integrated in the schedule.
To date we have solicited 14 papers/presentations from innovative and accomplished museum thinkers/authors/scholars that draw on Steve's writings, activities, and other legacies as a springboard for continued and original reflections on key topics of concern to the cultural heritage sector. The draft abstracts are attached as Appendix B, although final abstracts may change somewhat to align with programmatic themes.
The three-day session is organized to build on concepts presented in papers. We intend to acknowledge the influential role that Stephen Weil played in shaping peoples' thinking about issues, but to also encourage authors to build on and extend his thinking, to critique concepts, and to introduce new perspectives on the current and future dynamics of the cultural heritage sector. Authors of papers will be asked to summarize key concepts and stimulate discussion, rather than to read their papers, and a key priority is to build in time for small working groups to reflect on issues and contribute these to the overall proceedings.
As well, one afternoon of the gathering will be open to the British Columbia museum, heritage, and cultural community to attend a panel discussion and reception and dinner at the Royal British Columbia Museum that enables our local cultural community to meet participants and engage with the concepts being discussed. The draft outline of the program features the following sessions.
- Wednesday, September 13
- 8:30 - 9:45 Welcome, introductions, anticipated outcomes
- 9:45 - 10:15 Break
- 10:50 - 10:45 CONCEPTS: Peter Linnet: The Weil Legacy
- 10:45 - 12:00 CONVERSATIONS: The Weil Legacy
- 12:00 - 1:30 Lunch (lunch tables hosted by speakers of the day)
- Toward "positive and intended differences".
- 1:30 - 2:30 CONCEPTS: Museums as Social Enterprises, with David Anderson, Robert Janes, David Fleming
- 2:30 - 3:00 Break
- 3:00 - 4:30 CONVERSATIONS: Museums as social enterprises - distilling key elements
- 4:30 - 5:00 Reflections
- 6:00 - 7:30 Dinner at Dunsmuir Lodge
- 8:00 - 9:30 CASE STUDIES: small group sessions to debate dilemmas presented in Steve's case studies
- Thursday, September 14
- From being about things to being about people.
- 8:30 - 10:00 CONCEPTS with Hilde Hein: Rebalancing Purpose, Elaine Heumann Gurian: The Essential Museum, Randi Korn: The Intentional Museum, and Victoria Dickenson: Museums in Global and Diverse Societies
- 10:00 - 10:30 Break
- 10:30 - 11:30 CONVERSATIONS: How is balance achieved?
- 11:30 - 12:00 Reflections
- 12:00- 1:15 Lunch at Dunsmuir (lunch tables hosted by speakers of the day)
- Museums Matter.
- 1:30 - 2:00 Travel to Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) by Bus
- 2:00 - 3:00 Tour the RBCM
- 3:00 - 4:30 Gathering with museum professionals from British Columbia in the Newcombe Conference Hall of the RBCM
MUSEUMS MATTER: Gail Anderson, Robert Breunig
Reflections: Martin Segger and Joy Davis
- 5:00 - 8:00 Welcome from First Peoples
Reception and Dinner in the First Peoples' Hall of the Royal BC Museum
- 8:00 Bus to Dunsmuir Lodge
- Friday, September 15
- Museums: a human fabrication, an organizational contrivance.
- 8:30- 10:00 90 min CONCEPTS: Shaping Institutional Change: Jay Rounds, Volker Kirchberg, Des Griffin, Rachelle Browne; John Nightingale
- 10:00 - 10:30 30 min Break
- 10:30 - 12:00 90 min CONVERSATIONS: The Evolving Museum
- 12:00 - 1:30 90 min Lunch (lunch tables hosted by speakers of the day)
- 1:30 - 3:00 90 min LESSONS, LEGACIES: Elaine Heumann Gurian and Kay Larson
Next Steps. All.
Draft Abstracts of Papers/Presentations
The Weil Legacy
- Peter Linett
Partner, Slover Linett Strategies Inc. and. Books Editor Curator: The Museum Journal 4147 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite 302 Chicago, IL 60613 (773) 348-9206
- Stephen Weil's work and influence are well worth celebrating. But perhaps the greatest honor we can do him is to challenge his ideas in the same spirit in which he challenged the profession. Taking my cue from critic Clement Greenberg, who described Modernism as a period self-analysis in which practitioners used "the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence," I will explore some of the assumptions and commitments that undergird Weil's writing and hold them to scrutiny. What are the boundaries and limitations of Stephen's idea of the museum? What might it leave out? How can we tell the difference between radical notions he propounded as a compensatory strategy-i.e., to get us to see what he thought we were missing-and radical notions he truly espoused? By subjecting a few central Weil themes to close reading, we may come to a keener appreciation of what, precisely, is so valuable in his thought.
- What are the boundaries and limitations of Stephen's idea of the museum?
Museums and Cultural Organizations as Social Enterprises
- David Anderson
Director of Learning and Interpretation
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 2195
Fax: +44 (0)20 7942 2193
- This Time, It's Personal
- Is it a result of the end of the Cold War? Or the Bilbao effect? Is it the United Kingdom Government's Creative Industries Mapping Document (1998 and 2001)? Or Richard Florida's theoretically flawed but influential book, The Rise of the Creative Class? Is it the embarrassing loss of part of Iraq's cultural heritage? Or the increasing competition between cities to regenerate themselves and enhance their wealth and reputation? Is it a consequence of globalisation? Whatever the source, a wind of change is blowing through the museum sector. Culture is once more central to public policy in many countries, within and across national boundaries.
- In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, European and North American museums collected and exhibited material cultures from across the world. They could be about other societies and rather than of them. It is now evident that the relationship is more challenging and complex. In their own countries, publicly-funded museums have a clear public service remit. Once they become active overseas, what are their responsibilities to the societies in which they intervene? Is their main purpose commercial or ethical?
- Many major - and some smaller - museums in Europe, North America, Asia and other parts of the world have developed international strategies. This paper will take examples of current practice as a starting point for discussion of issues of creativity and contemporary cultural policy in an international context, and will explore the potential of the concept of cultural rights - as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights - as a possible basis for the future development of museums' relations with their own and other societies. Once, culture was material. Now, it's personal.
- Change, Role of Culture, Social Responsibility, Purpose, concept of cultural rights
- Robert Janes
Museum Management and Curatorship
104 Prendergast Place
T1W 2N5, Canada
- Museums and Social Responsibility
- Although the idea of socially responsible museum work dates back to the nineteenth century, there is a renewed and growing interest in this kind of work. This talk begins with a consideration of what socially responsible museum work means, followed by a discussion of why it is important. One reason is the demand for greater accountability by museum funding agencies, including governments, foundations and individuals.
- Several examples of socially responsible museums, galleries and science centres are then described, with the purpose of identifying those characteristics which these organizations have in common. Of particular interest are the values which these organizations share, including idealism, intimacy, depth and a respect for interconnectedness.
- There are also various organizational considerations which are essential for fulfilling a socially responsible mission. These are identified and described, including the need for shared purpose, active experimentation and openness.
- Socially responsible museum work is not an either/or proposition, and does not mean the elimination or erosion of traditional museum practices. Rather, socially responsible work is concerned with adding value to one's community, and making the world a better place, while also fulfilling our collective responsibilities as both citizens and museum workers. All museums, irrespective of size, have the opportunity to embrace this challenge, and the results are likely to be as diverse as the museum community itself.
- Social Responsibility, Accountability, Values, Motivations, Community Roles
- David Fleming
Director, National Museums Liverpool
William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EN UK
Tel: 0151 478 4201
FAX: 0151 478 4321
- 'Stairway to Heaven; the museum as ladder to the stars'.
- I want to pick up on Stephen Weil's thoughts in his paper 'New Words, Familiar Music' where he wrote of the museum as social enterprise. I would want to explore the roles which museums can play which may take them furthest away from their traditional role as collectors of objects. So, I would look at the museum as social engineer, as curator of collective psychology, as transmitter of community identities, as debating chamber, as forum, playground, springboard, launchpad. I would explore the ways museums can use collections, but also consider ways they can act without having collections at the centre of all that they do. I would consider the ways in which museums can get involved in politics, and why they should.
- Museum as a social enterprise, social engineer, Social responsibility;
Connecting with Communities
- Dr. Hilde Hein
29 Fern St. Auburndale, MA 02466
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Stephen Weil is credited with reviving the notion that "the museum (is) for somebody rather than about something." Lately, the museum world has turned away from artifacts to focus on people and the provision of experiences. Weil did not advocate the abandonment of collection, but he acknowledged its contemporary impediments and problems. He also posed questions about what is collected and why. Other museum professionals, too, have emphasized the museum's obligation to serve the public, but they have disparate views on how that is to be accomplished and who is to be served. I argue that, while museums are publicly obligated, they should not forfeit their distinctive character which centers upon objects. Many institutions serve the public, and most employ objects (and people)in doing so, but museums fulfill their function in a unique fashion. They are about objects AND they are about people. A growing number of agencies strive explicitly to produce experiences, but that is not the museum's chief mission. Experience is one element of, but far from the whole of the museum's proper objective. To the extent that they fixate on inducing experiences, museums lose sight of a deeper and more subtle achievement. There is ample evidence that museums have the capacity to affect people profoundly and even to "change lives". This is heartening, but should not be a goal. The museum is not a church. Cognitive, emotive, and aesthetic growth takes place by many routes. Museums are a rich stream that amplifies and enlarges the limited pathways to survival that cultural conventions afford people out of social necessity. Museums reach beyond the elemental.
- The role of objects in maintaining the museum's distinctive character: rebalancing purpose
- Elaine Heumann Gurian
4834 8th Street South
Arlington, VA, 22204
703-920-4077, in Vieques 787-741-1769
- The Essential Museum
- This paper examines ways to convert some museums from "nice to have" establishments into institutions that are seen by their users as "essential." I acknowledge that the noble tradition of the customary museum continues to be useful, beloved by its adherents, and defended against transformation by those who understand and celebrate its value. Nevertheless, I propose that there is room for another kind of museum, one that arises not from the organized presentation of culture by those in control, but instead puts control into the hands of the user. I suggest that while there is some useful experimenting with such control shifts within museums, most especially resource centers and study storage, there is no current category of museum in which the visitor is intended to be the prime assembler of the content based on his or her own need."
- Experimenting with shared authority; shifting control to the user; enabling the user to be the primer 'assembler' of content.
- Randi Korn
118 E. Del Ray Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301
- The Intentional Museum
- This paper introduces the construct of The Intentional Museum. The Intentional Museum is a museum that knows its institutional self and its audience fully and is a learning organization because it is in a constant state of discovery and change-collecting and integrating visitor experience information into its practice. The Intentional Museum operates from a clear Statement of Intent or purpose, which represents an ideal. A Statement of Intent clearly defines the types of experiences the museum wants its visitors to achieve, and the museum embraces it and structures its practices to facilitate those experiences. The focus on visitors is central because the ultimate expression of a staff's work is reflected in its galleries and programs for visitors to experience. The museum may never reach its intentionality because as soon as the Intentional Museum achieves its Intentions, it is no longer a learning organization. As an ideal statement, however, the museum can alter it continuously to reflect the reality of internal and external forces and changes. A museum's constant work towards its intentions creates a cycle of continuous comparisons between visitors' experiences and the Statement of Intent, and shifting practices in response. The institutional behavior of cycling research and action is evidence of intentionality.
- Victoria Dickenson
690 Sherbrooke Street West
Tel: 514 398-7100 x296
Fax: 514 398-5045
- Canada is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, and that diversity is the result of large-scale immigration, particularly in the 20th century. This diversity has given rise to a new kind of nation in a state that cannot define itself by the traditional markers of nationhood -race, ethnic affiliation, religion or language, even shared history. What are the challenges for the public museum in a nation undergoing redefinition in light not only of diversity but also of globalization? What are the effects of this redefinition on the role of the museum as collecting and preserving institution, and as a space for representation? Does David Lowenthal's distinction between "heritage" and "history" doom the museum always to be seen as either the hegemonic agent of the state, or as hostage to partisan polemic? How will globalization and diversity affect the presentation of the "other?" Will there be a new universalism, catapulting the museum back to its role as selective microcosm? What is the value of the museum to a global society reinventing itself through the new technologies of communication? This paper will attempt to understand more specifically the role of the public history museum in engaging visitors with the temporal and geographic specificity of place, and the relationship between this engagement and the development of both a "sentiment d'appartenance" (sense of belonging) and, in Canada at least, a shared citizenship.
- Challenges for museums in a global, increasingly diverse world
- Des Griffin
Gerard Krefft Fellow
The Australian Museum
Sydney AM 4 Winslea Ave
p +61 2 9401 9861
- One of Steve Weil's major contributions to our understanding of museums was his "immodest proposal" that museums be evaluated in terms of purposiveness, capability, effectiveness and efficiency, the first two being much more heavily weighted than the others. This is a substantial departure from the trend of the last 40 years during which increasing emphasis has been placed on economic efficiency and revenue generation. Qualitative indicators predicting likely future outcomes (leading indicators) are more useful than quantitative outcome indicators which consider past events and focus only on what can be measured. Indicators based on sociological studies of organisations, including surveys of best practice, are likely to better serve future planning than do economic efficiency indicators. A study of 33 museums in four countries concluded in 2000 identified characteristics of the more successful; these are compared with features identified from other studies of successful forprofit and nonprofit enterprises. A principal issue is what constitutes excellence and "quality". Gaining agreement on that from executive and governing board is critical. Generally such judgements have been considered to exist in the professional sphere to which boards and executives defer. Effective organisations, and effective boards, are best considered by looking at how staff work together, how decisions get made and how leadership is practiced. These are the critical issues for boards: governance should not equate with mere oversight.
- Performance Measures, Quality/Excellence
- Dr Volker Kirschberg
Professor and Chair, Distribution and Organization of Arts and Culture
Faculty of Cultural Sciences
University of Lueneburg Scharnhorststr. 1 21335 Lueneburg, Germany
- Museums in Service to Changing Societies
- "...the primary measure used to evaluate a museum's worthiness is the positive and intended differences that it makes in the lives of the individuals and communities that constitute its target audiences." (Beyond Big and Awesome, MUSEUM NEWS, November/December 2003) Museums might be able to make differences in the lives of individuals and communities. I would follow up on Weil's quote by describing and analyzing the concept of permanent or temporary identities of museum visitors formed by their visits (cf. Elias' social figurations (Elias & Scotson 1990), plus several types of (museum visitor) "scenes" (cf. Irwin 1977) and social circle concepts (Goffman 1959, Bourdieu 1984, Giddens 1984). People decide voluntarily to visit museums; and they create a structured pattern in their lives by repeat visits. Repeated visits institutionalize museum "scenes" (Irwin 1977), museum "teams" (Goffman 1959) or museum "structuring systems" (Giddens 1984), ultimately providing patterns for becoming and remaining a part of the museum world. Thereby, museum visitors institutionalize a regulating context for rules in museums. This structuring and institutionalizing force is, however, not carved into stone. Interaction and communication patterns, routine as they might be, are variable; and changes in this praxis can again restructure the museum field (Bourdieu 1984). Visitors are shaped by museums they visit (regularly) but museums are also shaped by their visitors. This identity formation by visitors might clash with the identity that the museum producers (directors, curators, exhibition designers, staff) define for "their" museum. This last sentence refers to the topic of "controversy" also mentioned under the header of "emerging issues/topics"
- museum visitors institutionalize a regulating context for rules in museums - neo-institutional perspective: Visitors are shaped by museums they visit (regularly) but museums are also shaped by their visitors.
- John Nightingale
The Vancouver Aquarium
Box 3232 Vancouver, BC V6B 3X8
- Means to Ends
- In 2001, I had the opportunity to follow Stephen Weil on a panel at a national museums workshop in Ottawa. Stephen's talk dealt with our often preoccupation with how we do things (the "means"). He argued that we should by more focused on what it is we are trying to achieve ("the ends"). I raised the issue that while it is true we don't always raise our eyes to the horizon, and occasionally do lose track of our goals (or at least aren't always completely conscious of them), we have to focus on tactics - on the "means". That is the only way to reach the "ends - our goals. This provoked a lively discussion - and Stephen ended up agreeing that while we need to revisit our goals and keep them close - if we don't use good tactics to reach for them, we will fail. I propose a discussion on this exact issue - how do we ensure we are pursuing the right goals - how often do we check. And, how do we ensure we are actually using tactics (the "means") to the right goals (the "ends). And, how do we ensure we are using the best tactics we can (the "means") to achieve them?