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Museum Of Marco Polo Looks Into The Tea Leaves. Again

It’s that time of year when we look into the future and predict where museums will go in 2015, as well as looking back on what we predicted for 2014.

Here are our seven predictions for 2015.

1.  The question of financial sustainability, already strong a year ago, now dominates the beginning, middle and end of every conversation in the cultural sector – particularly if you are outside the charmed circle of the M25.  Everyone is watching everyone else, looking to see if they have found the Holy Grail of making money.  Two interesting moves are Bury Art Museum’s journey to China and the coming of the North West’s spectacular collection to Two Temple Place in London.  But as everyone grabs at the same solutions and chases the same audience, some areas – such as building temporary exhibition spaces in London – are starting to look very crowded indeed.

2.  Local Authorities continue, as predicted, their schizophrenic attitude to culture.  Some still believe they can’t afford it but plenty more are hoping that museums could become a tourist gold mine.  We have even heard of local authorities taking back museums that they have farmed out into trusts – clearly believing that they could do a better job themselves.

3.  The ‘new building solution’, and even more so ‘the iconic new building’ solution, is looking increasingly problematic.  For every museum that wins an HLF bid to build a new building, there are dozens more who don’t – and who will have to find another way to bring in more visitors.

4. Digital. Ah, digital – which, as predicted, is emerging steadily from the shadows. In the staid world of museums it still has a wild west flavour (which is no bad thing because that way it will continue to experiment) but even the most cautious of museum directors is beginning to eye it up and to wonder if that way lies financial salvation.  As the digital cutting-edge races forwards, it leaves many gaps behind. Have you ever come across an online collection of artefacts so seductive and compelling that you’ve put down your novel and thought, ‘Wow, I have to look at that instead.’  No, I haven’t either.

5. Art installations.  In the aftermath of the Poppies there will be plenty more of these, some wonderful, some terrible, and some in between. But it was ever thus.

6. Fixed-ness versus Fluidity.  The old, fixed, thing-world of museums is starting to change.  It’s partly the love affair with events, festivals and performances (now seen as the new way to make money), partly the rise of the parallel universe that is Digital. I have even heard it questioned whether a museum and a building should be thought of as one and the same?  This an association that has been around since about 1750 so its demise would be big indeed. As for events, festivals and performances, as these get more and more important museums are learning the skills of cultural programming, and entering the domain of cultural impressarios. Truly the world is changing.

7.  And then there is the pursuit of Cultural Quarters, which are on everyone’s wish list. The success of South Kensington and the South Bank (both in London) means that every town and city hopes that they can use culture to bring people together, to build events and communities, and to encourage secondary spending. A cultural quarter has become the ultimate prize.  Museums which, up til now, have stood in glorious isolation are now rapidly trying to build one around themselves.  But creating a successful cultural quarter is trickier and more subtle than it looks.  This is a challenge that will run and run.

We can’t say that 2015 will be easy for museums, but it will certainly be interesting – because, alas, we live in interesting times.

Happy New Year.