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Paris - 19 June 2009

SUMMARY OF THE DISCUSSION
« WHAT THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS IS CHANGING FOR MUSEUMS »
Tuesday, June 9 2009 – UNESCO, Paris

Moderator: Alan Riding, former European Cultural correspondent for The New York Times.
Keynote speakers:  
Jacques Attali – Author and President of PlaNet Finance.
James Chung – Consultant, President of Reach Advisors.

Introduction by Alan Riding:
Is the crisis a catastrophe for museums? There is no more funding; this is the end of a Golden Age of ambitious buildings made by famous architects; this is the end of blockbuster shows. The situation with negative impacts is amplified by structural changes (internet, new behaviours for the young population, etc.). But the current crisis offers new opportunities for museums as well, refocusing on their initial inspirational and “spiritual” role. 

Intervention of Jacques Attali:
History tells us that the decline in private wealth brings about the birth of the development public wealth. The development of museums is linked to two phenomena:  promotion of a national identity and development of culture in fading economies and powers.  Today’s crisis will be long.

The crisis is American, this nation is living a major bankruptcy of its economy with a destabilised banking system, private fortunes endangered and a breathtaking national debt. The consequences for museums are a major drop in private sponsorship, a state unable to finance museums (budget deficit) and new priorities for private sponsorship (individual or corporate): more investments for environmental and social projects, less investments for sport and culture.

The crisis is the consequence of a major paradox with an increasingly global economy and the absence of global regulation of the exchanges, provoking national and individual protectionism. The end of the crisis necessitates governance on a global scale. Museums must learn to think on a global scale, as ICOM does.

The crisis is the result of an historical trend over the long run with a shift in the geographical spheres of growth.  
Growth has always been based on four prerequisites: growth of population, development of innovation, development of the banking system, political stability and order. Today, the growth is met more and more in Asia, India, Brazil and in Africa rather than in Western economies.

General consequences of the current crisis for museums:
 
Trend 1: More museums for more assertive nations
New nations develop new museums. New elites, new middle classes, new financing capabilities, new ambitions and the will for promoting national identities appear.

Trend 2: New roles and new publics for museums
New collective and individual identities intensify the development of ideas and exchanges. New populations for museums will grow, for example healthy senior age categories (aged more than 65/75 years old).

Trend 3 New technologies for museums 
The Green Architecture: museums will have to adjust to these new trends and be at the forefront in the defence of the environment (carbon assessment, transportation rules for cultural goods, use of energy in buildings, etc.).
New consumption models appear in museums: internet, RFID, 3D, holograms, virtual visits, shops, etc.

The current crisis brings new challenges for the museums such as ecology, free access to culture and commitment for visitors for greater meaning. Does tomorrow’s museum mean a return to the “living museum” of the 19th century: a place for creativity and expression, a workshop, a space for live events and social networking? The crisis will end one day, but museums will remain real whatever happens.

Intervention of James Chung:
In the current context of crisis where one can witness the disappearance of the biggest companies in the world, which trends can change the way museums are functioning? 

Situation of North American museums.
There is a drastic drop in private funding for museums (90% of funding). But some positive aspects are brought by the crisis, among which is the increase of the number of local visitors and subscriptions. Some museums are more resilient than others: museums for children are more resistant than great art and history museums.

Current major consequences are visible with redundancies in museums. Very few museums, if any, are thinking about how the crisis can play a role in museum management.  Will we see some museums closing in 2010?

How can we foresee the consequences of the current crisis?
Lessons of the Japanese financial crisis in the 90’s can only be partially transposed to the American situation. The role played by private investment is very different.

New roles to be found for museums in order for them to secure their funding.
For example, responding to the demands of new social and economic categories (and not only the 1% of the population which commands 25% of the national resources in the USA, and has been the most important source of funding their so far).
Women's demographic part in the American society repositions them at a higher educational level and of stronger income: will they be the instrument of a new growth for museums?
Will the retired and baby boomers in the Western World (1/5 part of the population in the USA to a 1/3 part of the population in Italy, Germany and Japan) help to finance museums by their new leisure-oriented way of life or will the burden of their pensions endanger public funding for museums?

Towards a new Golden Age for museums? 
Yes, if museums adapt to new demands and behaviours (women, young people, senior visitors etc.)  Must museums adapt and reinvent themselves in order to serve, in a more creative and efficient way, new requests from new publics?   
Yes, if museums understand what brings visitors to them in the current crisis. Visitors who are more citizens driven by their search for meaning than consumers eager to find status and luxury.

For all questions concerning the world museums community and for interviews with ICOM’s Director General, please contact the press office:
Nadine AMORIM - Tel. + 33 1 47 34 91 63 - amorim@icom.museum

 
 
   
Updated: 22 June 2009