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The Future of Museum Ethics: A Chat Wrap Up

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

CFM hosted a lively Twitter chat yesterday, soliciting input on the future of museum ethics as a kickoff for the forecasting project we are conducting with the Institute of Museum Ethics this summer.

The goal of the chat was to gather ideas on emerging ethics issues to fuel our forecasting. Some of the issues tagged for consideration by participants were:

  • Art museums presenting work from questionable sources such as (private) collectors or corporate sponsors. One person observed that current museum studies students accept museums being cozy with corporate sponsors as a norm. Are generational shifts in attitudes creating a future in which museums are less concerned about how funding may influence intellectual content?
  • The ethics of museums having many artifacts in storage which are never shown and are “inaccessible.” One participant noted that the “pendulum swing from emphasizing preservation to emphasizing access brings new ethical issues.” In the digital age, with all materials potentially accessible in some way via the internet, what are a museum’s ethical obligations to invest in such access?
  • It is not surprising that many emerging ethics issues relate to the internet, itself an emergent technology. One participant noted that museums need to consider their roles as “good guys or bad guys” in the drama playing out over free speech versus content control in cyberspace, as it relates to digital management. Also, as museums jump on the digital bandwagon as a way to distribute content and build audience, are we contributing the “digital divide” that further separates the haves from the have-nots in this country? (For more on the digital divide, and other “cyberquandries” see this article)
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Here is the transcript of the chat. I encourage you to read over the questions and answers and continue the conversation by commenting on this blog and on AAM’s Facebook page. And track the progress of the forecasting project this summer—there will be further opportunities to contribute your thoughts on what ethics issues museums will face in coming decades, and how we should meet them.

Finally, I issue you this challenge from yesterday’s discussion: what’s the news headline for the big museum scandal of 2036? My favorite answer from the chat involved evil robots…

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