Article Index

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”


  1. Words to keep in definition
    1. Public, open to the public, public benefit
    2. Education
  • Study
  1. Development
  2. Intangible, intangible heritage
  3. Researches and communicates
  • Communicate, Communicates and exhibits tangible and intangible
  • Heritage / enjoyment /communication
  1. Service of society and its development, Humanity
  1. Words/phrases which could go
    1. Non-profit
    2. Society
  • Development
  1. Enjoyment The concept of ... and enjoyment
  1. Words , phrases and concepts which could be included:
    1. Replace permanent with a more conceptual term
    2. Facilitate dialogue and debate
  • Encourage/stimulate debate
  1. Access
  2. Inspire
  3. Engagement
  • Interprets
  • Inclusion
  1. Explicitly defining diversity – of gender, LGBT etc – part of the inclusion
  2. Participation, real participation
  3. Network
  • Safeguarding
  • Reflection (can be positive and negative?)
  • Empower, inspire, reflection, collections, well-being, participation, interprets, engagement, de-colonialisation, inclusion, promote, network,
  1. Individuals instead of society
  • The definition of a professionalised museum
  • Inclusion, well-being
  • Leveraging museum collections and communication for creativity and innovation.
  • Please avoid “authenticity” which does not work for intangible heritage!
  1. Definitions create expectations – should they have or indicate LIMITS to what museums can achieve?
  • Museums = People
  • “enjoyment” (bénéficier in French) “Access + enjoyment – human right to participate in cultural life
  • Question the phrase “in the service of society” – sometimes we need to challenge and question society.
  • What about responses to major environmental issues? ... roles in climate change? Biodiversity?
  • Should rethink the non-profit part as museums close down in UK for no funding available
  • In the service of society – with its different communities
  • Sustainability
  • Environment
  • Where is nature and natural heritage?
  • Less is more – shorter the definition, more open and inclusive
  • Function: “safeguard” may be preferable to “preserve” – more open term


  1. The ICOM Definition Standing Committee interactive session took place in groups of ca. 5-6 people per table, facilitated by student volunteers from the Museum and Gallery Studies course. The interviews will feed into the Standing Committee research and analysis. Participants included conference speakers, Alissandra Cummins (Barbados, former President of ICOM), Janet Blake (Iran and Scotland, expert in Intangible Cultural Heritage), and staff and graduates from St Andrews, among others. The questions posed were:

       What do you think are the most relevant and important contributions which museums can make to society in the coming decade?

       What do you think are the strongest trends and the most serious challenges faced by your country in the coming decade?

       What do you think are the strongest trends and the most serious challenges faced by museums in your country in the coming decade?

      How do you think museums need to change and adapt our principles, values and working methods over the next decade to meet these challenges and enrich our contributions?

Responses ranged across a variety of critical issues facing museums in the coming decades, not least the economic crisis, Global inequalities and insecurities, migration, and climate change requiring preservation and conservation priorities.