Open Culture 2011 – A new paradigm for collecting?

Nick Merriman – Manchester Museum…

Nick starting to do research on how we might take more proactive approach to collecting in the future.

[Somone? asserted] peak of the empire the heyday of collecting? Nick wants to look at post-colonial world…

Context for museums have changed and fundamentally challenge by post-colonial critique. But perhaps we have not yet got a new paradigm in post-colonial era. Disposal need to be part of approach, but what Nick thinks is particularly lacking is a sense of what future holds except rationalisation.

Museum’s will have collecting policies – but often so broadly defined, any collecting is permitted. In Nick’s experience many museums have stopped actively collecting. Most actual collecting is patchy, based around specific disciplines – and in silos? And in some areas, collecting has ceased due to changes in legislation.

There is some excellent practice in forming relationships with communities of origin for items. However, often investment focussed on ‘local’ and the global aspects of collections are neglected, although the historically collected global items are still part of collection.

Is this OK? Perhaps it is appropriate? E.g. Petrie Museum at UCL has become a closed collection – but it is being innovative in the way it engages with communities and audience – so museums don’t have to be collecting to be ‘alive’ – although for the Petrie this was enforced rather than chosen (because of nature of collection – Egyptology)

Nick is not axiomatic that museums *must* collect, but he believes it is part of the picture.

What might collecting look like?

  • Local and global dimension
  • Process would be as important as outcome – it’s about relationships – reciprocity
  • Relationships can be virtual as well as face-to-face
  • Collecting would be as much about digital as about objects – images and thoughts as well as specimens
  • Collecting become qualitative rather than quantitative – the ‘relational museum’ (coined by someone at Pitt-Rivers)

Vision for the future – two objectives at the Manchester Museum:

  • Promoting understanding between cultures
  • Working towards a sustainable world

Pursued these through programs and changes to way collection displayed – e.g the ‘Living World’ gallery at Manchester – move to ‘issues based’ (complimented by an App which uses data from the object database)

Nick thinks we should think about inter-disciplinary programmme of collection development – following themes like:

  • Trees – forestation/deforestation; climate change; cultural meanings
  • Water: Peak districte & Egypt; water management; cultural associations; biodiversity
  • Cotton: Manchester and Turkey; cultivation; manufacture; meanings; distribution; consumption
  • Migration: Plants and animals; movement of people and species

Explicitly link collecting to public face – see as integrated not separate.

Nick believes (these types) of museums to develop partnerships to university researchers (and note funding opportunities mentioned in previous session – AHRC)

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