What is the role of a 21st century museum?
Museums and galleries have always reflected and interpreted social, political and
economic changes. An increasingly complex and globalised world is causing museum practitioners to re-consider the relevance and purpose of museums and how they best reflect and serve the communities they are a part of.
In the UK and elsewhere, we are witnessing the emergence of new museums centred on identity and power that are sharing previously hidden histories and stories. These museums actively make use the use of their collections and art for social change and are responding to an external climate of political and social division.
In 2015 the Museum of Homelessness (MoH) was established and in its four year journey, MoH has developed into a community-driven social justice museum that tackles homelessness and housing inequality by amplifying the voices of its community through research, events, workshops, campaigns and exhibitions with support from a broad network of arts, academic, policy and medical professionals. As well as this, we provide direct support – bursaries, mentoring, training and practical support – to our community members.
Together we collect and share the art, history and culture of homelessness and housing inequality to change society for the better. Together we find hope in deeply divided and difficult times.
The backdrop for this work has been a dramatic rise if different forms of exclusion and inequality in the UK in the last nine years. Official figures for people sleeping on the streets has risen by 165% in nine years whilst the percentage of people applying to be housed across the UK has risen by 44%. Just recently, the UK’s office of National Statistics recorded the highest figures for people who have died whilst homeless ever. These changes exist as part of broader cuts by the UK government on funding for social care, health services, benefits and a service. Meanwhile the era defining ‘Brexit’ vote has sharply polarised different communities in the UK leading to bitter divisions, rising hate crime, economic uncertainty and political instability throughout the UK.
How can museums respond to this and what does this mean for other museums? Our presentation will share some of the experiences we’ve had including our work with other museums, insights from our community and some of the key moments in our work to make social change in recent years.
At NEMO’s European Museum Conference 2019, Matt and Jess Turtle will join “Panel 1: Sustainable Cities and communities” together with Tiina Merisalo, Helsinki City Museum, and Jordi Baltà Portolés, UCLG Agenda 21, on Friday 8 November.