Monday, 22 March 2010

Vision, mission, strategy

Alexandre Pomar was kind enough to comment on the last post and to indicate me the link that gives access to Minister Gabriela Canavilhas´s speech on the day of the presentation of the strategy for museums of the 21st century (available here only in portuguese). I am grateful, I hadn´t read the speech yet and, actually, it does seem to try to create a context for the measures announced. In my opinion, the text of the speech should be integrated in the strategic plan document.

Despite the attempt to create a context, I confess that, when I tried to associate the general lines of the speech to specific measures in the strategy, I felt there were some discrepancies, it seems that the measures are not always aiming at materializing the aspirations. But above all I would like to comment on the point the Minister chose to stress:

“(…)all these objectives are not changing a bit the fundamental core of the museums mission: the preservation, study and enrichment of the collections (…)”.

And for whom do we do all this, I wonder.

The museum, according to the ICOM definition
, is an institution that acquires, conserves, reasearches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible evidence of humanity and its environment, for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. ICOM does not define at any moment that the first three functions are more important than the last two. It´s mainly through the last two that we relate and communicate with the general public. It´s in the last two that we usually fail.

If we lose touch with the final recipients of our actions, we will continue to set up exhibitions that communicate only with specialists and the ‘initiated’, placing objects behind the glass, with labels that identify them mainly with the use of scientific jargon, indicating their date of production and, in some cases, also their materials and dimensions. We will continue to write panel texts that, apart from the curator, few people understand. We will still be unable to tell stories to common people, stories that can inspire and marvel them, or simply amuse them (I felt so disappointed when I heard Paula Rego, at the time of the opening of the Casa das Histórias, saying that the space for her collection would not be called ‘museum’, because museums don´t tell stories…). We will continue irrelevant and incomprehensible to a large part of our society. I am thinking about individual visitors, nationals and foreigners, and not about the target audiences of our museum education services, which, through their extremely rich offer, contribute significantly for an intellectually accessible and inspiring interpretation of the collections. These audiences are mainly people, the majority children, in groups and they have booked in advance in order to participate in an activity or guided tour. A large part of the general public does not visit in these conditions.

My favourite museum definition is that of the Museums Association (UK): “Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society”. I personally see a vision here.

There is a need for a vision in order to define a mission. I particularly like the mission statement (and vision statement) of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation programme Discover. I consider it clear, inspired and inspiring. Here it is:

“Discover – Gulbenkian Programme Education for Culture offers audiences of all ages a vast number of events that transform the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation´s artistic and natural heritage into a path leading to pleasure, discovery and creative thinking.

Through various approaches and methodologies for stimulating curiosity and imagination, the Programme associates experiences of the world of the senses to an interpretative and critical ‘reading’ of various arts.

The programme Discover believes that Education for Culture contributes to the ‘making’ of citizens open to creativity and the critical enjoyment of the Arts, but also, thanks to its mediating role, to the ‘making’ of people able to question the routines and take up an innovative role within the sphere of their social and professional activity.”

I can also propose to you the reading of the mission statement (that reflects a vision as well) of the Education Service of the Casa da Música (available here only in portuguese): "The Education Service of the Casa da Música invites you to enter the infinite universe of music through a variety of experiences that allow to hear, to do, to create and to learn. Independent of one´s age or conditions, everyone can find in this House ways of discovery, participation and total enjoyment". The document then presents the service´s programme that aims to materialize the mission-promise.

Vision, mission and, in the end, strategy and concrete measures. In order for everything to make sense, this should be the order. And when we get to the measures, these should clearly derive from and correspond to the vision and mission announced. Thus, we have a complete picture and a better defined way ahead.

After that, we evaluate.

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