ICOFOM Survey on the New Museum Definition

ICOFOM Survey on the New Museum Definition

Dear ICOFOM members,

For over forty years, the ICOM International Committee for Museology (ICOFOM) has been charged with fostering theoretical debates and circulation of knowledge in museum theory and practice. We have been actively engaged in addressing ICOM’s goal to establish basic concepts and definitions for the museum field. Most recently, we have been involved in the project of defining the museum in the 21st century that was initiated by ICOM in 2016 after the adoption of the 2015 Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, Their Diversity, and Their Role in Society (https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000246331), and developed since 2017 by the Standing Committee on the Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP).

Understanding that the ICOM museum definition is the most structural and operational tool for the organization to express its central values and mission to the museum world, we, the International Committee for Museology Chair and board members, would like to consult the ICOFOM community using a dialogical methodology to collect our various viewpoints on the current proposed definition.

ICOFOM therefore invites our members to express their views to us on the new proposed museum definition, answering to our Survey. Our goal as a committee is to collect a wide range of opinions representing the cultural diversity of our members, including those who have not yet had the opportunity to participate fully in this debate. Gathering this greater range of diverse viewpoints, we will then present and publicize a general report, in keeping with our mission within the ICOM network.

After the discussions on the definition promoted by the MDPP, in which ICOFOM played an important role, the ICOM Executive Board, at its 139th session in Paris 21-22 July 2019, chose one proposal from among the texts recommended by the MDPP for debate and deliberation by the ICOM representatives of National and International Committees in the Extraordinary Assembly scheduled for 7 September 2019 in Kyoto. After considerable thoughtful debate, the Assembly as a body voted to postpone the vote on the proposed definition in order to have sufficient time to more fully consider the implications of the proposed text and to hear the opinions of our members in a transparent and participatory process. ICOFOM applauds this decision to give the proposed definition the time necessary to study its implications for us all.

Here is the text of the new definition proposed for consideration by the ICOM Executive Board:

“Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.

Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.” (https://icom.museum/en/news/icom-announces-the-alternative-museum-definition-that-will-be-subject-to-a-vote/)

In order to present a report representing an analysis of the viewpoints of our members and propose amendments in the new text for the museum definition before the next ICOM General Assembly in Paris in June 2020, we ask that members who are willing to contribute answer to this Survey before 31 December 2019, when the results will be analysed.

We thank you for your cooperation and we are looking forward to working together for the new museum definition!


ICOFOM Chair and Board members (2019-2022)