Recommendation | Sharing the Love: Community Engagement in the 21st Century

Photograph of the World Gallery at the Horniman Museum and Garden in London. It holds over 3000 objects from around the world exploring the question of what it means to be human.

“21st century museums must look back to the best of the founding impulses of Victorian liberalism, acknowledge and be honest about their problematic colonial history, and re-avow the vital importance of appealing to all and engaging their communities. At a time of increasing intolerance, “fake news” and a coming generation which will be worse off than the current one in many ways, museums provide rare spaces where people from all backgrounds can come together to share what it means to be human and to try to work out how to shape a better future for the planet we all share.”

I recently came across an interesting article by the Chief Executive and Director of Horniman Museum and Garden Nick Merriman that I thought I would share. In recent years museums have become increasingly more aware of their engagement of their surrounding communities, and rightly so. The argument behind this interest is in part an acknowledgement of their responsibility towards the public that supply funding, but also an awareness that museums are a space for coming together and gaining perspective on life and issues we might be dealing with both privately and societally.

A point I was particularly struck by in Nick Merriman’s article was his interesting observation that the museum was running a risk of becoming complacent with regards to reenforcing the diversity of its audiences and institutional inclusivity approaches as its visitor numbers were soaring. Merriman’s point being that the numbers were rising, but the diversity of its audiences were not, in fact they were dropping. A dilemma that I am sure many “successful” museums today are struggling with – do we try something different or stick with what we know? Or as Merriman puts it:

“So, we have a dilemma: continue as we are, with great visitor numbers and a thriving business model, but one which only attracts a certain section of the population, or should we try to widen our audiences, despite the difficulties in doing this?”

Museums are central to our understanding of ourselves and our story, and I think Merriman’s article is a testament to just how much this is the case. If they do not represent, respond or otherwise engage with our society as a whole how can they claim to be our collective memory? A thought provoking article for anyone interested in the challenges facing museums today.

Merriman, Nick. “Sharing the Love: Community Engagement in the 21st Century.” Museum iD, 05 January 2019,

Featured photograph from The Horniman Museum and Garden’s World Gallery. It holds over 3000 objects from around the world exploring the question of what it means to be human. ©Horniman Museum and Garden.

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