Essay on Thomas Riordan Exhibition or Recreation

Submitted By ThomasRiordan
Words: 1387
Pages: 6

“Exhibition or recreation? How will museums need to adjust within an increasingly competitive leisure industry?”

Thomas Riordan
University College London

“Exhibition or recreation? How will museums need to adjust within an increasingly competitive leisure industry?”

The aim of this paper is to explore the future of museums within the competitive leisure industry. To do so I will first outline the development of the identity and role of museums since the 1970s and their progression into the competitive market. I will then go on to examine how the market is changing, and how museums will have to adapt in order to survive independently of government subsidy. To do so, I will discuss the work of Paul Edward Montgomery, “How Museums Must Change to Survive the 21st Century”, and of Christine Burton, “Museums: Challenges for the 21st Century”. Finally, I will outline the importance of visitor studies in the positive progression of museums. To do so I will reference the works of E. Chang, "Interactive Experiences and Contextual Learning in Museums."
A hundred years ago, a museum was seen only as a place to store and maintain artifacts (E. Greenhill, Intr.1994). Over the past 30 years, there has been a transformation of this image, as museums have multiplied and taken on an interactive role in society (C. Burton, 2003), as a source of education and cultural expression for the general public (C. Burton, 2003). This period of growing public involvement coincides with an increase in the percentage of “middle class”; in the United States in particular that went from 15% in 1970, to 31% in 2007 (S. Reardon, 2010). In England, Butler’s 1944 education act expanded state provided secondary education, which then resulted in a further expansion of tertiary education in the 1960s. This generation, known as the “baby-boom”, was significantly more educated than any of its predecessors, and much greater in population. The growing public appeal and involvement in museums could be renamed the democratization of museum support (W. Phillips, 1993). The increase in demand drove a corresponding increase in supply of museums (C. Burton, 2003). The key change was the change in focal point of museums from the artifacts themselves, to the communication of the artifacts to the public (E. Greenhill, Intr.1994).
The Thatcher mentality of the 80s further pushed museums into the competitive market, as funding was repeatedly cut and museums had to fend for themselves (R. Ballantyne & D. Uzzell). As a result, museums had to begin to compete not only with other museums, but also with other leisure activities. They developed into what is widely known as “educative leisure” (L. Hanquinet & M. Savage).
However, it seems the museum boom has plateaued (P. Montgomery, 2012). A study undertaken by Kirchberg in 1998 showed that, though the number of museums increased by 30% between 1991 and 1997, the total museum attendance only rose by 5%. There were similar trends across the rest of Europe (C. Burton, 2003). More recently, funding for British museums dropped by 11% (£23m) during 2010/2011, and despite yearly capacity increases, visitation figures have leveled off (P. Montgomery, 2012). Montgomery attributes the decline to the current economic climate and the exponential rise of the Internet. He warns of a “triple dip” recession, during which education, culture and arts and social services will all continue to face cuts. “It is a time of tightening belts and high debt”, (P. Montgomery, 2012). He goes on to explain that museums have not been prepared to survive uncertain economic climates. The Internet also has its negative effects, as information that may have only been accessible in museum learning backgrounds are now fully accessible via any mobile phone.
Montgomery goes on to describe the framework for improving the situation. He bases this on addressing five areas:

Christine Burton, however, explores a different…