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Winning article for the week ending 31 January

The Growing Importance of Museums

People often talk about the importance of reading, of spending more time with family and friends, and of increasing sleep levels to enhance one’s quality of life. However, what is referred to much less often is the importance of visiting museums. Not only can they unleash one’s creativity and critical thinking, but museums are also a powerful tool in making a difference to society, and the wider world.

Alice Black, former co-director of the Design Museum in London, spoke to me about her belief that visiting museums and galleries ‘should be part of the curriculum for all.’ Indeed, she said that museums ‘play a role in a different register, one that is free of tests and allows people to explore freely different ideas.’ Likewise, I am of the belief that it is time museums are embedded more thoroughly in the school curriculum from a young age at primary school, with every school across the country visiting at least two museums a term.

This would go on to help solve a rising problem with museums. ‘We have also seen,’ Black stated, ‘that it's more of the middle classes that are attending, with still not enough participation from those who are more deprived. A visit with a school is critical, because if you have never set foot in a museum as a young person, it will be considerably harder to step inside one later in life.’

These days, unfortunately, museums are becoming more and more misused by tourists who value the attractive appearance of museums as opposed to the intellectual gems museums have to offer. When I visited the Belvedere Palace Museum in Vienna, Austria, for instance, I was astounded by what I saw. The room which held the most famous painting in the collection: ‘The Kiss’, by Gustav Klimt, was so crowded with tourists taking photos, that it was nearly impossible to get a good enough view to be able to truly marvel at the painting’s genius.

This is a serious problem in symbolising the declining intellectual value of museums. On the other hand, some argue that any visits to museums- whether intellectually focused or not- are in fact a positive in raising general awareness about museums so that their influence reaches a wider range and number of people.

With a large number of the most frequented museums free to the public, however, there comes problems. In the words of Black: ‘the biggest challenge, as ever, is money. It is very expensive to run a museum, and there is rarely enough money to do everything you'd like to do.’ As a result, the chief job of director is fundraising. Fundraising. And more fundraising. When one stops to think about it, it is indeed rather sad that institutions as valuable as these are very vulnerable, made vulnerable by a lack of funding. It makes one realise the importance of donating money to places where your money can be spent for the greater good.

Last week, my friend had to leave a netball match early, claiming she had to rush off to see the exhibit entitled ‘Rubbish and Us’ at the British Museum, which documents types of rubbish produced by humans throughout the passage of time. When I researched this exhibit, I was struck by the influence of museums, not just as forms of entertainment, but as direct influencers in an act to help combat climate change and change the world for the better.

Likewise, Black commented on the ways she herself used her position at the Design Museum to facilitate exhibitions which made a difference to society. Her role at the Design Museum was significant in bringing a more social view of design to light: ‘Design offers us a way to use better materials, manage our consumption of water, and reduce the pollutants we emit. It is more important than ever.’

Finally, Black spoke of her time working for the Imperial War Museum in London. She stated that ‘the Imperial War Museum bears witness to the greatness of humankind, to heroism, but to the dark side of humanity too. I think that if more people visited such museums, perhaps they would think differently about others.’

And that it is museums’ greatest most underestimated power: the power to make people across all ages reconsider the way they view the world.

Article written by Allie Gruber, click here to read it on our newspapers.

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