A new definition of a museum was adopted by the International Council of Museums (Icom) at a general conference in Prague, Czech Republic. The proposal was approved by members at the Board's Extraordinary General Meeting on August 24, with over 92% voting in favor of adopting the new wording. This follows an 18-month participatory process that involved hundreds of museum professionals from Icom's 126 national committees around the world. A new president and executive board was also voted on at the conference. Emma Nardi was elected president of Icom, replacing outgoing president Alberto Garlandini.
The new definition: “A museum is a permanent, non-profit institution at the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums promote diversity and sustainability. They act and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences of education, fruition, reflection and knowledge sharing.”
At first glance, the new definition doesn't seem to deviate much from the existing one, which was last updated in 2007 and has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s. But while the structure is similar, it has 13 new words or concepts, many of which are quite progressive in nature – such as “diversity”, “sustainability”, “ethical” and “accessible” – reflecting the evolving nature of museums. role within society.“The old definition was passive, just about having a collection,” said Bruno Brulon, co-chair of ICOM Define, the committee that oversees the formulation of the definition. “The new definition is much more active.”In a statement, Icom said: “This new definition aligns with some of the key changes in the role of museums, recognizing the importance of inclusion, community participation and sustainability.”But inevitably, with a process involving so many thousands of people, not everyone was satisfied. “We would like to see words like 'decolonize' in the definition, because that is what is happening in the world,” Muthoni Thangwa of the National Museum of Kenya, a spokesperson for ICOM's International Committees, told the panel. “We would have loved to [see] the issue of repatriation addressed in the definition.” Chung added, "To be honest, it's not progressive enough for me either but we have to have something."ICOM feels that the new definition is both illustrative of the ways in which museums have changed in recent years to respond to the needs of their communities, and a roadmap that can help guide museums that are not yet doing this essential work.“Museums that aren't concerned with sustainability or diversity, these are now terms that are in the definition, so they need to consider them,” said Bonilla Merchav. “Museums now have to dedicate themselves to making the world a better place. That's the big change that has taken place with that definition.”