MA2007 Maurice Davies “Empower Don’t Control”

Maurice was in great form for his keynote, passionate and you can tell that he really does believe what he is saying.

He asks “If museums as the new churches of society, then we need to do more than just encounter and celebrate, we need to inspire”

He would like to see museums matter to society and see their exhibitions have as much impact as an opera, play, book or individual work of art to create a full experience that does more than just interpret. His sites examples of exhibitions that have had a key individual at the heart of the vision, individual artists or designers that are from outside the museum world.

This sounded to me like a call to work with the Arts Council more closely.

Will Hutton yesterday was talking about all the cultural sector being on the same page, so that places museums alongside the Arts Council world who have a lot of experience of commissioning exhibitions and large scale installations with artists.

I wonder what would happen if this kind of partnership started to happen? Museum curator’s skill sharing with visual artist organisations with a view to commissioning artists to create the kind of experiences that Maurice talks about (again, this comes back to Will Hutton’s point about the experiential economy – this is the growing area of the creative industries).

In the ACE visual art strategy ‘Turning Point’ they talk about the need to bring together the historical and the contemporary and that is the same as what Maurice was saying about the need to “connect to contemporary issues” and to “interpret the past and the present”.

I wonder how long it will take for this type of partnership to be a requirement from government and not simply an idea? I believe that there is a lot of ways that the MLA and ACE could help each other – not to dictate or overtake, but to exchange expertise, criticisms, success and failures – and I know that there are some organisations that are already leading this.

Personally, I’m not sure that this vision of inspiration should be an expectation of all museums. I quite like things that I can just encounter, things that are just there for me to see, that are not trying to change my life – who wants a life changing experience every day?

But Maurice is right that at their best, the kind of profound life changing shows that are possible in museums are the aspiration that the sector should strive for.

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