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Why do we need an International Museum Day?

16 May 2014

These days you can’t move for an International Day of something-or-other. The United Nations’ International Days range from days supporting families, to wildlife, jazz, or even toilets. Less officially you can sign up to International Speak Like a Pirate day, and today (believe it or not) is Pizza Party day. So, why should you care that Sunday (18 May) will be International Museum Day (IMD)?

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has been running an International Museum Day since 1977 ‘to encourage public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society.’ That’s a particularly important argument for museums at the moment. The Museums Association launched ‘Museums 2020’ in 2013 to encourage the sector to think about its future. The result was ‘Museums Change Lives’: a manifesto for museums as having clear and increasing social impact. It was a response to government funding cuts, as well as to Maria Miller’s emphasis on an overwhelmingly economic argument for culture during her time as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Museums enrich the lives of individuals and communities, is the argument; they help to build a just society and are, in turn, enriched by their vibrant and diverse publics. So that means it’s a two-way process, equally dependent on museums and their communities. The theme for IMD this year is ‘Museum Collections make connections’, which gets people to think about how museums are not fusty environments frozen in time, but living institutions, where objects can make connections between individuals, generations and communities across the world. It opens up museums to you that are anything but local. This year the National Museum of Afghanistan will be taking part for the first time, and the ICOM president will be in Zambia discussing the future of African museums.

Closer to home, Culture 24’s ‘Museums at Night’ festival provides a build up to International Museum day in the UK (and across Europe) from 15 to 17 May. This year it will also be featured on the BBC for the first time. The point of International Museum Day is to get you to think about your local museum, go and visit, engage and think about what it can do for your community. So, this evening, why not step away from your computer, out of the door and down to your nearest cultural venue? Now might just be the time to ask not only what your museum can do for you, but what you can do for your museum.

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