Museums have no borders,
they have a network

All news

June 13, 2019

Plenary | The Museum Definition: The Backbone of ICOM

Over recent decades, museums have adjusted, transformed, and re-invented their purpose, policies and practices, to the point where the ICOM museum definition no longer seems to reflect our challenges and manifold visions and responsibilities.

In January 2019 ICOM, through its Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials Standing Committee (MDPP), invited members and other interested parties to create and submit proposals for a new, more contemporary definition. This alternative definition, selected by the ICOM Executive Board, will be presented for decision at an Extraordinary General Assembly which will take place on 7 September 2019, as part of the General Conference.

Behind the proposal for a new definition lies a couple of years of intensive analysis of the histories and paradigms, which have shaped museums, and of societal trends currently impacting on museums.

The diverse futures of museums will take form amidst global concerns and conflicts over climate change and the destruction of nature, over displacement and migration, over wars, inequality and de-colonisation. Museums may be simultaneously queried and strengthened by community quests for participation and by new social movements of resistance, of empowerment and agency.

But while in the past an opposition has often been voiced between the social purposes and the collection-based museum functions, between community involvement and the role of experts, museums today actively strive to fulfill their social, societal and democratic purposes through their unique and particular museum functions, methods and expertise.

This plenary session will include

  • A presentation of the overall need for a change in the museum definition and of the visions and potentials for a new definition by Jette Sandahl, Chair of the Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials Committee (MDPP)
  • A discussion of epistemologies, world views and sustainability between W. Richard West Jr., President and CEO, Autry Museum of the American West and Nirmal Kishnani, Associate Professor, National University of Singapore, Editor in Chief of FuturArc
  • A discussion of power, geopolitics and decolonisation between Prof. George Okello Abungu, Emeritus Director General, National Museums of Kenya, former Professor Heritage Studies, University of Mauritius and Shose Kessi, Associate Professor and Acting Dean, Humanities Faculty, University of Cape Town
  • A discussion of communities and participation, empowerment and agency between Margaret Anderson, Director, Old Treasury Building, Melbourne and Lauran Bonilla-Merchav, Professor, University of Costa Rica, Chair ICOM Costa Rica
  • An opportunity for questions and answers

ICOM Kyoto 2019

Between the 1st and the 7th of September 2019, Kyoto (Japan) will host the biggest and most important conference of museums in the world. More than 3.000 museum professionals and experts from all international backgrounds will participate in this triannual event, the 25th General Conference of ICOM.  After 24 successful editions, ICOM’s flagship conference has become a worldwide reputed hub for exchange about the topical issues museums tackle today, as well as the most innovative solutions. To find more information on the conference and to register, check the ICOM Kyoto 2019 website.

ICOM Kyoto 2019 website

Moderator and speaker

Chair of the European Museum Forum, Chair of ICOM MDPP


CEO of Okello Abungu Heritage Consultants, Kenya

Director, Old Treasury Building, Melbourne, Australia

Professor, University of Costa Rica, Chair ICOM Costa Rica

Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Deputy Dean for Transformation in the Humanities Faculty at the University of Cape Town, South Africa

School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore

W. Richard WEST Jr.
President and CEO, Autry Museum of the American West, Board Member ICOM US