Generally dissatisfied with the museum: Reflective debate, radical transparency and trust in the museum in civil society

A workshop with Bernadette Lynch (museum writer, researcher and consultant)

October 16, 2013
14:00 – 16:00
CEREV Exhibition Lab

e-mail to RSVP (mandatory)

Beneath the rhetoric of the utopian, democratic, dialogic museum, the space is always contested and political. This is the very reality, Lynch maintains, that the museum does much in its power to ignore. In fact, research has shown that the museum’s participatory engagement can produce the opposite effect, exacerbating the antagonistic potential existing within social relations, evidence of which can be seen throughout current museum public engagement work. Consequently, it can leave everyone dissatisfied.

What to do as a museum professional when faced with resistance, opposition, conflict – internally or externally – or both? As one staff member at a prominent UK museum put it, “Life is messy, controversial, fluid, contentious – lots of things a museum has difficulty with!”

Drawing on new theoretical perspectives and a range of case studies in the UK and elsewhere, Lynch will outline how, in attempting to work with difficult subject matter, contested collections, inter-cultural dialogue, within their public participation work, museums might begin to move away from the participation-lite and clash-avoidance that has so often undermined the democratic aims of this work. The task instead, she suggests, is to begin to view participants not as passive beneficiaries but as active agents. This necessarily includes embracing conflict in which the museum becomes a vibrant public sphere of contestation.

The workshop will examine those ‘theories of change’ that so often undermine current museum public engagement efforts. Participants will have the opportunity to examine their own ‘positionings’ while discussing the challenges and opportunities presented.

Bernadette Lynch is an academic and museum professional with twenty-five years’ experience in senior management in UK and Canadian museums, with an international reputation for developing visionary museum theory and ethical, innovative practice, specialising in public engagement and participation with diverse communities and in leading organisational transformation and change. She has extensive experience of working with international, national and local organisations in developing effective community engagement with collections and in the development of reflective professional practice and innovative working processes. Lynch publishes widely and is frequently asked to lecture, speak at conferences, teach master classes, lead workshops, supervise post-graduates, mentor senior professionals and advise museums regionally, nationally and internationally on issues of inter-cultural dialogue, public engagement and participatory democracy in museums and museum transformation. Ongoing research interests relate to democracy, dialogue, debate, engaging with conflict, contested collections and difficult subject matter and in organisational (cultural) change in the museum. She is Honorary Research Associate of University College London (UCL).

Center for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence