The discussion of what a museum is is a discussion that is identical to the discussion of the Sex of Angels that took place in Constantinople in the 15th century, while the Turks besieged the Bosphorus city gates.
In the last days of June, the museum community was shaken by successive waves of layoffs in the governing structures of ICOM. Amid greetings, regrets and applause, we learned that on June 21, President Suay Aksoy, elected last year in Kyoto, had resigned, giving personal reasons.
We now know that before this resignation, Léontine -van Mensch had already resigned, which was followed by the resignations of Jette Sandahl, chairman of the ICOM Standing Committee for the definition of museum, prospects and potential, together with other members of that committee.
So that you have not followed the debate in 2016, at the Milan International Conferences, a Commission was created to discuss the concept of Museum, chaired by Jette Sendall, who last year presented this debate at the national ICOM Spring Conferences.
Following these debates, the topic was presented at the International Conference that was held in Kyoto (September 2019), where many voices of protest arose in relation to the proposal. A second, broader commission was then created, with the mission of finding a consensus between the “conservatives” (supporters of a reducing vision of the museum institution), and the “liberals” (supporters of a new definition).
Among us the debate continued last fall .
I had the opportunity to write elsewhere that this was a useless discussion. Not because arguing is useless, but because of the simple evidence that if we don’t see anyone discussing what a Social Institution (a Library, Hospital or Health Center, or School) is, why should we waste time discussing what should be the museum, or a cultural center, a collection gallery, a living science center, a digital museum.
Is it not relevant to discuss the processes?
In this case of ICOM International, without anyone explaining the reasons, it will not be difficult to intuit that the fierce struggle for power over memory is at the center of this controversy. Elites do not easily give in to their privileged places of regulating collective memory! The power attributed to angels to mediate the relationship between the people and the divine.
Another fallen angel! We now await the chorus of wailing mourners and earthly prophets.