2015 AAM Annual Meeting Theme

The Social Value of Museums: Inspiring Change

The moral arc of the universe is long, Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us, “but it bends toward justice.” President Jimmy Carter affirmed, “We can choose to work together for peace.” Both men are Nobel Peace Prize winners from Atlanta, Georgia.

The founding impulse of museums was social interaction, connection and engagement with the public. From their origins, museums have continually evolved to nurture and sustain the human spirit. Today, as we teach, inspire, collect, preserve and interpret, we fulfill our public service roles as community centers, forums for discussing the pressing social and political issues of the day while learning from the issues of the past.

Recently we have witnessed major upheavals—technological, social, political, environmental and economic. In response, many museums have become less object-centered and more visitor-centered, providing greater access in order to improve the quality of visitors’ lives, social change and the wellbeing of communities.

While there is no commonly understood practice regarding the social work of museums, we know that our institutions provide experiences critical to social development. Visitor-centered, “magnetic” museums conduct visitor studies to understand and serve visitors of all backgrounds. They celebrate tolerance and freedom, teach respect for cultural differences, facilitate a sense of individual and collective identity, empower through knowledge and nurture an understanding  of our connections to the world and to each other.

Museums of every kind do this directly through exhibits, programs and research on important issues of the day, or indirectly, through a balanced interpretation of art, historic artifacts or living collections, making all that we offer accessible to the broadest audience.

At the 2015 AAM Annual Meeting in Atlanta—capital of the South, birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., home of the MLK National Historic Site, the Carter Center, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and many other cultural, social, business and civic institutions that provide a deeper understanding about our social value—we ask all museums to consider how we embody this spirit through our educational mission, our programs and collections, our community presence and our public service.

We invite session proposers to consider some of the following questions:

  • What does it mean to advance the social engagement of museums?
  • Is this a role that museums should embrace?
  • How are museums addressing human and social needs through their programs, practices and operations?
  • What kind of training and staff will be required to sustain this effort?
  • What benefits derive from the social role of museums and how do we measure success?
  • How do we identify the social problems that we have the capacity to help solve? What strategies should we employ?
  • How will we communicate the valuable role we play globally in addressing social issues?
We also invite you to explore the following resources inspired by the theme:



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