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Museum Definition

Museum Definition

Creating a new museum definition – the backbone of ICOM


In the aftermath of the 2016 ICOM General Conference in Milan, a new Standing Committee has been appointed to study the current definition. The Committee on Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP, 2017-2019) explored the shared but also the profoundly dissimilar conditions, values and practices of museums in diverse and rapidly changing societies. Combining broad dialogue across the membership with dedicated expert fora, the committee addressed the ambiguous and often contradictory trends in society, and the subsequent new conditions, obligations and possibilities for museums.

In January 2019, ICOM invited its members, committees and other interested parties to take part in creating a new, more current definition. New proposals were published here on a continuous basis.

Following the processes of active listening, collecting and collating alternative definitions through its standing committee on Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP), the Executive Board of ICOM, at its 139th session in Paris on 21-22 July 2019, selected the below as a new alternative museum definition for a vote to be included in the ICOM Statutes instead of the current museum definition:

“Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people. Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.”

ICOM’s Extraordinary General Assembly (EGA), which took place on 7 September 2019, in Kyoto, Japan, postponed the vote on the new museum definition. For more information on the EGA decision please visit here.

As a result, according to the ICOM Statutes, adopted by the 22nd General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, on 24 August 2007, the current definition is still as follows:

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”


In January 2020, ICOM Executive Board (EB) appointed a new Standing Committee on Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP2) that will start working with a new brief and a road map conceived by the EB. The EB Brief can be consulted here.

ICOM Executive Board decided to invite a participation of members that goes beyond that of the Committee Boards and embraces all Committee Members, thus ensuring a participatory and bottom-up model for the decision on the new museum definition. President’s letter to the Chairs and Boards of ICOM National and International Committees can be seen here.

Meanwhile, the MDPP is enlarged for the 2020-2022 term with the addition of a representative group of members from the NCs and ICs and it is renamed MDPP2 to mark this change. The committee will be chaired by Jette Sandahl.

For more background information, please consult the Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP) report and recommendations approved by ICOM’s Executive Board  in December 2018, through the button below :

MDPP 2018 Report and recommendations

For any questions, you may contact Afsin Altayli, Museums and Society Coordinator