Museum of Marco Polo

Celebrating Museums And Imagination 2020

Museum of Marco Polo looks into the Tea Leaves

26th January 2014

26th January 2014:  The Museum of Marco Polo has been looking into the future.  These are our seven predictions for the UK in 2014, and three more for the world beyond our shores.  Read them and tell us if we are right.

  • Anyone who can make a museum financially sustainable will walk on water. They will be king, emperor and all-round hero in the new world.
  • Museums will begin to see themselves as content creators. They will look at all their resources – not just the artefacts but the letters and diaries, photographs, films, people, memories and stories – and then look at all the platforms that are available out there.  Gradually museums will begin to see themselves as media companies.  They will even begin to see themselves as lucky to have so much content.
  • Side by side with this, the digital world will cease to be a threat.  You will no longer hear the mantra:  ‘we want people to look at the objects, not play with a digital device’.  We will all watch and learn from the way that anyone under 25 uses social media – weaving a complex dance that continually crosses and re-crosses from the digital to the real, and back again.  The possibilities in that dance will become apparent to us all.  Those who send out museum tweets will be invited upstairs from the basement where they currently reside.
  • Museums will increasingly see the possibilities in their ‘wrap’ – the shop, cafe, restaurant and all the rest that surround the gallery experience.  Museum directors will no longer be embarrassed to describe themselves as landlords, shop keepers and restaurateurs.
  • The big, frontline London museums will continue to attract visitors by the millions, but everybody else will struggle.  This echoes the split we see in publishing where the mid list has vanished and a few writers make fortunes whilst everyone else limps along.  The key proportions are 10/90 and we will see them everywhere.  It’s enough to make you believe in numerology.
  • Expect local authorities to continue their schizophrenic attitude to culture.  Is it a shocking drain on local finances, or a tourist magnet that will sustain the local community?
  • Museums will increasingly demand flexibility in everything and especially in displays. It’s not only lack of money driving this, it’s also a sign of the times – where fluidity is valued higher than things that are fixed (look at the rise and rise of the Activity Plan).  And so museums will ask for displays that are affordable, flexible, easy to change and always good-looking, whatever anyone does to them. And designers will scratch their heads, wonder how to square so many circles, and then try to oblige.

And for the world beyond our shores –

  • Museums in developing countries will catch up remarkably quickly. It’s taken UK museums 250 years to get to where we are (and truth be told, we do museums remarkably well) but it will take countries round the world only a fraction of that time to draw level.
  • Countries that have begun by building buildings will realise that a museum is far more than bricks and mortar. Expect a swift about turn here.
  • Freed from our historical expectations of what a museum should be, we will see some fantastically innovative approaches to museum-making in some unexpected places.


The beautiful 18th century style silhouettes are from Art Work by E.K.Duncan at