Conference "Post-crisis Alternatives for Museums: towards an online museum management model"

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The 8th November at the University of Navarre saw Dr Igor Calzada, currently completing postdoctoral research at the University of Oxford, lead a seminar on possibilities for museum management in the future. He referred to the aftermath of the financial crisis as a challenge and an opportunity to create museums which are resilient, sustainable and truly public entities.

A museum, he posited, should be a "space for interaction, a place for conversation, for new encounters – not so much for collections". In the footsteps of Orteiz, then, museums must "manage the empty spaces"; he mentions the Telmo museum of San Sebastian, using their entertainment programme for parents and children as an example. If Gehry pushed the development of museums towards a priority of architecture over content, what we need to see now – he argues – is something of a return to their origins: the museum should be able to take the life on the street and bring it inside, so as to be a place of cultural encounter for the masses, if they are to remain viable. Calzada cited the UK's ‘Museum 2020' project and Quebec's cultural heritage programme as exemplary with regard to their innovation and achievement of a high valuation of museums as a common good.

Dr Calzada outlined the problems facing the museum today, caught up in the "long tail" of the recession and struggling to justify its legitimacy to the political world. He moved on to discuss the essential dichotomies that have always been wrestled over – academic collections vs. public, public funding vs. private funding – and suggested that a new model, specific to the museum, should dissolve such dualisms and focus on mediation. 

In so far as new technologies are concerned, there are multiple possibilities that would aid the design of such a model: the interaction of personnel, collections and the public through TICs, smartphones and applications; the digitalization of collections; international connections, and so on. Referring back to his presentation the previous day at the Parliament of Navarra, Calzada underlined the importance of different spaces being linked over a network – but remaining connected in real time. Awareness of place is paramount, as technology is bound to lift away from the land and roots, but with careful management, a network of national museums could be built up.

Dr Calzada underlined the fundamental importance of cooperation between small museums, then, which without innovation in their business models, are losing out in an era of fund-slashing. The key piece of advice he had to offer was a call to openness. Management "in networks", he stressed, does not just refer to online management; the necessity of talking "within and without" the institution itself is vital. Challenges can be met, he argued, by taking advantage of opportunities to share costs, material and even personnel. There are 107 small museums in Spain, and the possibilities of cooperation have not, according to him, been fully explored. 

Communities can also cooperate more extensively in museums; a ‘multi-stakeholder' model would implicate the community more heavily in something which should be a public entity. This resonates not only regarding activities within the museum space, but also with reference to funding. Only 10% of museums in this country are funded both publicly and privately, something Calzada suggests would change if the ‘crowdfunding' model used by the US (among others) was employed. Models need to move from macro to micro level. Strategy should be macro and management micro – with the bridge between the two "strong governance" which controls the relationship between the different parties in public administration, politics and local society.

Whilst new technologies provide multiple opportunities for museums, then, Dr Calzada reminded the audience that museums must remain museums, fulfilling their role as keepers of cultural heritage. Nor can the ‘core business' of a museum be its shop: the role of the institution in society is not fulfilled by a shop. Dr Calzada closed – opening the floor to questions – by warning that the ideas he proposes are complex; but an interinstitutional, multistakeholder model can be "efficient , agile and connected".