Gail Dexter Lord, Co-President of Lord Cultural Resources spoke at MuseumNext Geneva in April 2015 about Soft Power and what this concept means for the 21st century museum.
Matt Caines: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome back to the MailChimp Auditorium, where we have not one but two key note speeches. We have one from Gail Dexter Lord, welcome back.
Gail Dexter Lord: Thank you.
Matt Caines: Who is a co-president of Lord Cultural Resources. She will be talking about why cities and soft power are next for museums, and explore how museums can activate their soft power in the 21st century.
We also have Stephen Feber, creative director and producer for museums and founder of Stephen Feber Limited, or SFL. His keynote will address our digital century and how it poses significant challenges but also offers huge opportunities for museums.
In terms of set up we’ll hear from Gail first and then we’re going to talk about it, at which point I’d love to get some questions from the floor, then we’ll do the same for Stephen.
So without further ado, can I introduce the podium, Gail Dexter Lord.
Gail Dexter Lord: Thank you. Thanks very much, great to be here. Great to be presenting to this most forward looking conference in Europe, if not even beyond Europe, and a City known for its soft power, and, let’s see, why cities? Well, because urbanisation will be one of the century’s biggest drivers of global economic growth, because a majority of museums are located in cities, because cities are where most people live, and because museums today [weighs] property value, some of you have heard me talking about this ad nauseam, but to me it’s the silent money in the world.
Here we all think, well, there’s money in oil, there’s money in manufacturing in some places and not in others, but property is all around, so if we live in cities, and the massive relocation of humanity from the countryside to the cities, it’s happened in Europe and North America, which includes three countries, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
In these countries that urbanisation has been with us for a long time, and we’re now 80% urban. However the rest of the world, the entire world averages out at 50% urban right now, and it is moving at a startling pace toward being 80 to 85% urban.
And so what does that mean? It means small amounts of property, huge amounts of density, that means that the industry is set to make the most money in a short period of time is actually real estate, and I want to urge everyone, look around your museum, look at the buildings going up, look at your nearby cities, and we have to really come up with a strategy on how that industry would … actually gives very little back to the cities and the counties and the cantons, how can it be supporting culture, because that’s certainly a contributing reason as to why people move to cities, those who have the choice.
So this is just a few statistics that’s pretty much what I already said, and reinforces the point about why cities. So we live in a – just have to make … when they’re big they’re so much better – we live in an urban world and the majority, the vast majority of the world’s museums are in cities. Now, not all of them, and we can talk about that in the question period, but this is a talk about cities, museums and soft power, and for those of you at the previous session in this room you heard that there were 30,000 museums in Europe.
Now, the latest count, and it’s in this book on soft power in cities and museums by Guido Guerzoni, is that there are 80,000 museums worldwide. There’s about 25,000 maybe 30,000 in the Americas, let’s just say the Americas, and that leaves only 20,000 for the rest of the world. The rest of the world is where the majority of the world’s people live.
So one thing I just want to say, we have to start being Eurocentric about this notion of museum building, oh, the Chinese are building too fast, whatever, whatever. The reality is Chinese would have to have one museum a day to even begin to catch up to the access, the physical geographic access that we in the North and West have to museums. So I hope I’ll never again hear people say things like, I get scared, you know, when people build museums in China, maybe it’s something about China that they’re frightened about but certainly building museums really shouldn’t be one of them.
I, myself, am a fan of China. We have an office in Beijing. I think it’s probably the human society which has undergone more change in the last 30 years than ever known to humanity, and so we have to think about that sometimes.
So I’m going to skip a couple of slides, oh, I’ll give you that one, because … so the next question is, why museums? And museums contribute quite a lot to cities. They have a big role in city building. They preserve and interpret the heritage, art as well. They are creators of new knowledge, and in these knowledge based cities, which is, you know, the reason why cities can grow so fast is that they don’t have to be located near natural resources anymore, right, that’s the obvious reason. They can be anywhere that people will go and people will be and people can work. And they’re tourism destinations, tourism is an enormous industry and a relatively clean one. They provide civil society spaces. They’re economic generators. And they are places of enlightenment and, increasingly, of what I call soft power.
So people will ask, well, what is soft power anyway? So that’s the definition. It was coined by Joseph Nye around 1991, who’s a Harvard professor. When he developed this term he was thinking, and most of his work, in fact, has been about countries, so most of the literature there’s just a tiny bit about the soft power cities. Most of the literature about soft power pertains to various types of diplomacy, and relations, and cultural relations, and there’s now a term, like, soft diplomacy as opposed to hard diplomacy, I guess. Hard diplomacy happens just before you declare war, you have some hard diplomacy.
But in 2013, the British Council, those experts in neo-imperialism in a certain sense, speaking as a Canadian I have to say that, came out with a fantastic report, which really repositioned the whole role of culture in soft power, although not cities but culture. And I’m just quoting from the title, it’s a bit longer but the second part of the title is utterly fantastic, Culture and the Race for Soft Power in the 21st Century; the race for soft power. So the ways to influence, create influence through persuasion, attraction, or gender setting.
Now, what’s exciting about this circumstance, and, again, the literature on cities and soft power is fairly new and actually quite small. The reason why it’s emerging is because cities really are on the frontline of so many global issues; poverty, migration, issues concerning climate change and sustainability. All the big issues that countries frankly find very hard to deal with, cities have to deal with on a day to day basis. And cities have formed associations, there’s C40 cities, they meet and they’ve developed I think an 80 step process for combatting climate change and trying to influence governments on issues of climate change, poverty reduction.
So cities are really coming into the world of soft power. You don’t read it every day in the newspapers but it’s growing. So our question, and I should just introduce my co-author, Ngaire Blankenberg, there she is, we really thought, well, it’s time to put soft power, cities and museums together for all these reasons.
Now, what changes are there in our world of museums that made us think that soft power could be bit for us? And there they are. Museums were on the periphery of soft power, and I’m going to explain that, but the two factors, one is the intensification of cities and the fact that many, most museums, really overwhelmingly most not all by any means, are located in cities, that’s one reason. The second reason is the role of civil society and the transformation over the past 30 years of museums worldwide, not just in the United States, not just in Canada, not just in England, like the English speaking world, to use a polite expression, the French have a different expression for it, but that has moved our institutions from being largely either corporate run or government funded and operated into this realm called civil society.
For those of you perhaps not that familiar with the term, civil society is basically the non-profit sector. It includes foundations, trusts, the voluntary sector, the charitable sector, and, increasingly, museums are transferring from the public sector maybe, or city museum, to become a public-private partnership, and even from national museums. Many national museums are now becoming, if you like, PPP, they’re public-private enterprises, public-private partnerships, use the third P.
According to many economists the voluntary sector of the economy is growing faster than the for profit sector of the economy. It happens to be an area of the economy in which women are particularly active, it’s more open, it’s more permeable, and, indeed, perhaps more flexible.
So these two factors are really pushing museums from the margin of soft power to the very centre of soft power if we want it, and, clearly, Ngaire and I are advocating that we should want it, that, indeed, it’s a very good thing.
Where did museums … now there’ll be some people in the audience, I hope, thinking, yes, but isn’t this just another way of making museums propagandists or whatever, and I think it’s important to position where museums were before this opportunity. And museums used to be, I mean it’s I our very DNA, frankly, where did we come from, we were, historically, agents of hard power, our collections were trophies of war, either internal wars, you know, colonising indigenous peoples, Canada, very famously, was into that, our museums are loaded with items that were literally expropriated from indigenous people by the church, churches I should say, different … all denominations except one participated in that activity, and then went to the government and then went into our museums, so trophies of those kinds of wars and trophies of wars between governments and between nations.
And them, of course, there’s the relics of the successful, what do they call it, diplomacy between nations, they are very important in museums. Those of you who know the museums of Dresden will know its incredible attraction called the Green Vault, which has some of the strangest objects I’ve ever seen, but they were basically objects of rape, mm, quite extraordinary objects, that were traded, you know, as acts of diplomacy among royal families. Exhibitions focused on the hierarchy of civilisations and the hierarchy of social class, I mean that is the trademark of the traditional museum, and, of course, then there are the records of great men.
So it’s not that we’re moving from something that was entirely devoid of politics and may not be what we talked about but … and, of course, I’ve set this, I’m sure you’ll recognise that these are the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, that now, you know, are controversial. We could get into that for a few hours actually, but the point being that it’s perfectly symbolic of the way museums were and the way, indeed, that many still are, and the way that many will want to be, which is perfectly fine.
So museum evolution in our time, I think probably in the historic time of pretty much everybody in this room, has had been a story of kind of a changing vision of what is the real, core role of museums. Let’s leave my previous comments aside for a moment.
Before the 1990s museums really were about beauty, about collections, and about perhaps a certain amount of self-improvement that people who went into them could gain. I’d have to say that, I’ve been in the sector since 1981, before that I was an arts journalist so reporting on the sector, and I would put it there, the museums were pretty much for those who had knowledge.
In 1992, the American, then Association of Museums now called American Alliance of Museums, published a very important document called Excellence and Equity, which asserted that what museums really are, what they really had to be, was education for everyone, that that was the key role of museums, the key role of collections, not just for the initiated. And that really is an idea, you know the [shock] that changed the world, that spread really worldwide, and is reflected very much in the icon definitions of museum that evolved around the same time, and other major kind of foundational documents about the sector.
Round about 2010, and you could date this from different times, the museums got the idea that, or some people got the idea, museums were really about entertainment or edutainment, and that was a … I have to put that in a bit of a fad category, but there were books about the entertainment economy and a lot of museums decided, you know, that’s really where we have to live because we’re competing for leisure time with all these fun parks and so on. And so that became a kind of a focus for museums in different areas.
And then I’d say at the same time as that, starting in the 1990s, reaching a kind of world status around 2000, was this idea that museums brand cities, and that’s where the embrace, if you like, I wouldn’t call it embrace exactly, but, anyway, of museums and cities really became powerful. So Bilbao, of course, a truly troubled City, really the Guggenheim changed the face of that City, not because, by the way, Bilbao didn’t have museums, it had very, very good museums as a matter of fact, but because it created an entirely new image of Bilbao as a City that was contemporary, as a City that was not just a harbourer of the ETA, of terrorism. It’s hard to remember today how much terrorism really dominated the Bilbao landscape and the reputation of the City at that time, and it was transformative and led to a lot of other development.
And, of course, The Tate, excuse me not The Tate, Tate, because that’s the brand, it does not have The in it, in the year 2000 really was a very powerful rebranding of London. The idea of cool Britannia had emerged before that but that was, in fact, a great moment.
So after those three sessions, I guess, I don’t know what you … they’re not really epochs, I mean they’re just decades in way, we think that the next … and, actually, I only use the word next because this conference is called Next, and I thought, well, I should use the word next, you know, next for museums, it’s obvious, but I think it’s already started, it’s not … and the book is full of examples of museums exercising, wielding, living soft power. So this isn’t about something next that you must do or you might want to do, it’s about something that museums really are already doing, and maybe if we put a word to it we’ll do it better and we’ll talk about it more.
And we’re very practical people being, essentially, consultants, planners, and so this book identifies 32 ways to activate soft power, 32 ways that cities and museums can work together. And I’m going to present 18 very, very, very quickly, well, I won’t get through 18 in five minutes but, anyway, what I want to say is that we’ve produced a poster, see, there it is, on the 32 things. And you can use it, you can throw darts at it, there might be some you like, some you don’t like, some you agree with, some you don’t agree with, but Ngaire has them and she’ll hand them out at the door on the way out, and you can have that.
And it also has quotes from the 13 … we have to say there are 13 contributors to this book and they’re from all over the world, so India, from China, from Egypt, from Bahrain, from London, from Latin America, so it’s a worldwide perspective on this lens of soft power.
So maybe I will just see a few of the strategies, the reasons, what do we really mean, concretely, by what soft power can do? Well, one example that I like, because it’s our project, we’ve worked on it for 14 years, which is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Winnipeg is a City that people probably never heard about. It opened this year and it’s a museum for human rights not of human rights or about human rights, it’s for human rights and its role is really memory and adaptation.
And it also has another interesting aspect, that’s the building, by Antoine [Predock], that’s the City, a museum like this is a national museum, it’s funded, fully funded by the national government, it’s actually the first museum in Canada outside the nation’s capital, not the only one because now there’s another one, which will actually be another good soft power example, a museum of immigration in Halifax. So Canadians, we really relate to immigration and human rights in very profound ways that I can’t go into.
But what’s interesting is that this is a $351 million project, the building and the exhibits put together, and 50% of the funding came from private sector, mostly from personal donations. And I think that the lesson there is that this is … technically it’s a national museum but it’s preceding very much as a civil society institution, eventually those two roles will conflict because they’ll ultimately conflict in governance, but it is a very powerful example of what people can do when they believe in a new museum type.
And, of course, the City is now positioning itself and the universities, so there’s a big partnership with the museum and the universities, as a museum, sorry, as a City of human rights education, right. Winnipeg is very troubled, with a large aboriginal population, it can’t brand itself as a human rights City, and it’s actually a very powerful thing, they said, well, you know what, we’ll be a City of human rights education.
Now, it’s not just $351 million project, there’s a very small museum, I’m sure everybody in the room has heard of it, the Tenement Museum in New York. It is a museum of a building where different immigrants lived at different times, and it’s a great example of a small space with a big idea, and it’s so small that they’re now trying to make an expansion, but, again, Tenement Museum, migration, creating understanding, and many of the tourists actually spill into the neighbourhood.
Another museum that was referred to this morning is – yes, yes – is the Apartheid Museum, the slogan, somebody quoted it, and it’s really bothered me, actually, put apartheid where it belongs, in a museum, right. Actually, this is a transformational idea. You know, President Obama, I don’t know how many people watched him at the Commemoration of the [Summit] to Montgomery March, he said, Selma is not a museum. I thought that was incredible because what he meant by it, it’s not a place where nothing happens.
And we have to really understand that that is what people think of museums. They say put apartheid where it belongs, in a museum. Selma is not a museum. It’s obvious Selma’s not a museum, it’s perfectly obvious, but the point is that’s what political leaders, not the Mayor of Geneva, he’s fantastic, he understands exactly, he took half my speech, that’s why I’m having to work so hard. So they actually, the grand public, thinks that we’re unchanging places, but, in fact, museums in a soft power sense is a place that helps people adapt to change.
And I think you all know what goes on, you walk into this museum and you don’t choose which door you’re going to go into you pick a card and that card says you can go in the white’s only, or you have to go into the non-white’s door. Museums actually are also extremely important for the land that they make available, the common space. They are cultural commons both inside and out. This is Vienna, a City that created a really controversial complex, kind of creative cluster called the Museumsplatz, and this is a huge attraction for young people.
Now, Vienna used to be a City of waltzes and nostalgia and yet since they’re really refocused their museum quarter, and it’s not the only thing they’ve done, it is actually … Vienna has been at the top ten cities of innovation for the last ten years, which is really extraordinary. There are other things happening in Austria that could create that situation, other things happening in Vienna, but it’s no accident that having a creative place, a gathering place, for young people and for knowledge workers has really been quite important.
One of the pieces of that is probably one of the most innovative children’s museums anywhere, zoom, which is located in that area. Environmental awareness is another – this is a great, funky piece of art that I just love, that I saw at the [Shasha] Biennale recently, and I took this, my own photograph – but environmental awareness comes in a lot of different shapes and forms.
A Korean artist was invited to do an installation. She discovered that all, most of the air conditioners in the Emirates were manufactured in Korea, and so this is her piece, and you can see you have the imagery of the mosque and the actual, physical aspect of the air conditioners, and it’s a terrific piece, actually. But there are different ways artists create awareness, museums create awareness.
How are we for time?
Matt Caines: Five minutes.
Gail Dexter Lord: Five, oh, my God, I’m going to get through them all.
Okay, city symbol. Museums are symbols of cities. So this is a new museum in a Chinese city of a population of 10 million, [Ningbo], which is on the East, so the East coast, so it’s a sort of a coastal city, and what’s fantastic is that this is a building designed by Wang Shu, he’s the first Chinese born and living in China architect to win the Pritzker Prize. Interestingly, this museum … so city … what is the symbolism, well, it looks kind of like a ship, it’s kind of a port city, it is a port city, but the method of construction is called wapam, and wapam refers to the reuse of the refuse, so this is also about sustainability, the reuse of the refuse from typhoons, you know, you have all this junk, you know; it gets blown down, you have a lot of junk and the Chinese reuse it. It’s a historical method of construction.
And when I saw the building, I gave a course there, I said, yes, but where did that pattern come from? And they told me something utterly amazing. It was the workers that made the pattern, he just … here is the material, and every day the workers went down and made the pattern, so it’s like, again, it’s like crowdsourcing for the façade of a major museum. I think that that’s also very symbolic of an aspect of this country that perhaps we’re not too used to.
And just going to Japan, for economic regeneration, the regeneration of the inland seas islands, the most beautiful place you will ever visit. Tried to get some trustee to make … have a convening there, convening’s a bit new thing, actually, lots that museums can do about convening. This is a development that’s … these were islands that were dying because they were industrial islands, they were steel, iron, those industries are no longer cost effective or possible in Japan, for the same reason that they fought the Second World War, that they have no natural sources of energy, and one benefactor, one foundation, decided to transform the three islands, [Miyajima, Hiroshima] and I forget the third one, into art places. And they are among the most beautiful places, and they’ve become regenerated and young people no longer leave, they stay, and move there, and artists move there and so on.
Managing change is something else we talk about, and this is a picture of the Parlamentarium, which is the European parliament in Brussels, has a centre that Ngaire planned, and I think she’s still working on it, which is how to get people adapted and understanding the complexity of the European parliament, and that’s the idea there.
Another, this is one of my favourite projects, I worked on it for quite a few years as well, which is about contextual intelligence. And this is an institution in San Francisco, which is called the Museum of the African Diaspora. Now, it takes seven or eight years to get a new organisation going, by the way, I think there’s some people here who are trying to do brand new museums, and the point here is that when we started planning this no one was really talking about the African diaspora, and it was a very controversial idea that there was such a thing at all. And when you walk into this museum you look at a mirror and the text says, when did you first learn that you’re from Africa? Because we’re all from Africa. And that is about the contextual intelligence for a museum of this type, and possibly the Ethnographic Museum does the same thing.
Rebranding, Osnabrück, fascinating City that a major, visionary mayor, rebranded as a city of peace. And this is the Felix Nussbaum Haus, they also … very important, very, very important artist of the holocaust, and they also built an archive for Erich Maria Remarque, who wrote All Quiet on the Western Front, and it’s a big story in a small town. So, again, it’s not all about big cities but also about small cities.
21st century skills, art science, we have some art science people here, museums build 21st century skills.
I’m going to really not talk about all of them, oh, bridging and bonding, very important aspect, museums bring people together who have a lot in common but they also bring people together who have not much in common. They are places where potentially people can both bridge culture and also bond within their culture, and those are very important roles in terms of these strange cities that are changing their populations pretty much daily.
I want to talk about this project because it’s just been announced a month ago. We have a whole chapter on it in the book, which is the Knowledge Quarter in London. It comprises 50 institutions, including the British Library, who initiated it, because the potential of grouping is very important, British Museum, [SOAS], UCL, but, fascinatingly, it includes the Guardian, it includes publishers. So, again, it has that quality of addressing density of cities, right, with civil society intentions where you even have huge governmental organisations working with smaller, private sector organisations and education institutions all working together.
And so I already talked about sleeping giant this morning, so this is the question that we like to pose, is your museum a sleeping giant or is an agent of soft power?
So I’m very interested in you or your questions and your comments. Thanks.
Matt Caines: Well, thanks very much, Gail. We’ve got about 10 to 12 minutes for questions and I’m sure you guys have plenty. So let’s move straight into them, has anybody got any from the audience, and have we got any mikes? There’s, yes, just you there, you put your hand up, in the middle.
Audience: Hello. Hi, I’m Danielle. I’m a student at [Baschurch] University. Yesterday we were talking about audiences and how they kind of have an increased autonomy or are trying to work toward having increased autonomy for the audiences, that they can contribute to the meaning of the museums. And I was wondering if you thought that that contributed to the power that museums have or if it kind of takes away power and gives it to the audience more?
Gail Dexter Lord: Yes, that’s a good point and it should have probably had something about that. But, yes, the more engaged the audience the more autonomy the audience has the more meaningful this is. I mean marching people to some tune is not the way to accomplish soft power. And, in fact, the third factor, because I make tons of mistakes, that’s how I learn, and I’m learning something now, the third aspect of soft power which Ngaire points out is actually around technology.
So technology is actually enabling soft power and we see this in many manifestations.
Matt Caines: Thank you. And there’s a question just here at the front.
Audience: Hi there, I’m Jean Franczyk, I’m deputy director of the Science Museum in London. So several of your examples were new institutions, so I wonder if you have a view on whether soft power institutions have to be born or can they be made?
Gail Dexter Lord: Totally great question. Clearly, they can evolve in that direction, so what you’re saying, in a way, is just knowing your museum, is can a museum that was sort of designed in a way to, like, show off excellence of British industry, which sort of thing is very important, can that orientation be changed to do some of these soft power things. The answer is yes.
It’s an interesting question of which is harder, to start a new institution or to change an existing one, and, do you know what, the truth is they’re both really, really hard. Having said that I would say that, well, your blue room, what’s that blue room of yours, yes. That was certainly an effort to move in this kind of a direction, and I haven’t been back recently but I mean that was certainly I think the intention because it mixed in art, science and the public, so, yes.
Matt Caines: And there’s another right next to this lady. Again, just say who you are and where you’re from, that would be really helpful.
Audience: Hi, I’m from Brazil and I was just going to ask you how you see the public authorities and public policy makers in relation to soft power, because before it was a struggle for them to recognise the soft power of museums, and now I think they do recognise but aren’t they making the best use of it? A lot of tensions going on in Brazil now because of lots of new museums being built but not really always we have the best use of the soft power of the museums towards public policy makers for the population. So I just want to hear how do you see this?
Gail Dexter Lord: Right, okay. So it’s really fantastic that you’re here because Brazil is really topping the charts in terms of museum attendance, and also in terms of art attendance. Brazil, if you are addicted to the art newspaper as well as your section of the Guardian, of course, as I am, you know that Brazil, for two years I a row, has topped the charts in art museum exhibition attendance, like, this is seriously fantastic.
And we have a chapter on soft power in Brazil museums, written by a Brazilian, in the book. I’m not 100% sure I can answer your question, though, because I think it’s such a complex, fast moving situation. You have a unique funding model, which I think people here couldn’t even begin to understand, and my suggestion is if you’re not speaking at this conference you speak at the next one.
Matt Caines: Thank you. Any more questions from the audience? This gentleman just here in the middle.
Audience: Hi, Ben Templeton from Thought Den in the UK. I love museums hence being here, and I really like the vision that they can be forces for kind of economic sort of revitalisation, but I feel like there’s a friction still that these institutions tend to appeal to the educated and sort of middle to upper classes, and I wonder how, as institutions, we make sure that that economic redevelopment genuinely benefits the whole population of these areas.
Gail Dexter Lord: I think that’s a really tough one. The data on Tate, for example, which is in Southwark, which is a very underdeveloped … is stunning, you know, 2000 to 4000 jobs, all kinds of good things happening in Southwark. Whether that’s because marginal people were moved out, which, of course, is the tradition of many cities, that’s one of the problems, and certainly is that, you know … so I think that only, how can I say, only the city working with the museum can really address that, that’s a bigger problem than a museum can address itself.
I think what would be great is if the museum cared, because a lot of times you see just, well, we benefit, there’s lots of rich people living around, they all have education, they can all afford to visit us, they can know about visiting us so that’s fine with us. But maybe the museum needs to care about that issue.
Matt Caines: Any more questions? You’ve probably got time for one or two. Yes, this lady just here on the left.
Audience: My name is Hester. I work in Amsterdam Museum. I was very happy this morning that you remarked how there are many women working in museums yet most people in charge are still men. Do you think there is a relation between soft power and empowering more women and other minorities in museums?
Gail Dexter Lord: The simple answer is yes.
Audience: Is that something you think that is already happening or you think should men be more –
Gail Dexter Lord: Right, the answer is it’s already happening in the related sectors. When you look at employment in cities you see that female employment is actually quite high in civic leadership positions. More women are in city government than are typically in national governments, and if you look at the non-profit or charitable sectors you actually see the same patter. So I would say that it is somewhat inevitable that this will also happen in museums. The question is do we wait for the inevitable or do we give it a big push?
Audience: Let’s give it a push, right?
Gail Dexter Lord: I’m for it.
Matt Caines: One last question. This lady just here at the front. Thank you.
Audience: Hi, I’m Bernadine Brocker from Vastari in London, and I was wondering about, you spoke a lot about the actual buildings themselves and the infrastructure, but I have heard a bit about trends in soft power in temporary exhibitions and collaborations between institutions and how do you feel about that?
Gail Dexter Lord: Yes, I feel that that’s a really good question and, again, it shows a certain weakness in the presentation. We typically [rail] against people who just spend time on the building, at the end of the day it’s easier to show the building. But, yes, I think that participation, partnerships in exhibition creation and technology that we use now in museum exhibitions will all really make a big difference, and, yes, I’ll redo the speech, promise.
Matt Caines: Okay, great. Thanks for your questions guys. Is there any more? I just want to make sure if there’s any more. Hi, Jake.
Audience: Jake Barton. The question is a sort of follow up to making sure that the less fortunate benefit. I just wonder if you have an example of that ever working ever, meaning if you build a museum in a really fancy neighbourhood, oh, you’re excluding the poor; oh, if you build in a poor neighbourhood, at least in New York, oh, you’re gentrifying. We’re working on a Bronx, music heritage museum in the South Bronx, that is literally the poorest district in all of America, and it’s very hard to get them to think like a museum. If we try and make it a museum would we make a hip hop museum, oh, you’re just catering to people coming in from out of the South Bronx, not about us. If you make it about the South Bronx it turns into a community centre. I’m just curious if you have … I think that relationship is incredibly fraught regardless of how you slice it, so I’d be interested to see if you have any positive examples of when that’s worked.
Gail Dexter Lord: Well, first of all, I think this is all together a new way of thinking. So not all together new but partially new. So that’s one piece. The other thing is who lives where in all these … in this urbanising world is really an arena for cities to make some zoning decisions. So we’ve gotten over the thing and we now have artists live-work space pretty well in every city. Well, you know, 20 years ago that was thought to be utterly impossible, we were busy preventing artists from breathing in pay fumes, I don’t know what, but they couldn’t live and work in the same space. And, actually, it was Glasgow that made the biggest, fastest change in that area.
Seems to me that museums should be working with the anti-poverty organisations, which they don’t. I interviewed people for this book, because what do I know, and anti-poverty organisations, they never even thought to invite a museum person into the meetings. But they’re very keen, when there are these new buildings being built, a percentage should be market rent, a percentage should be subsidised rent, that we should be mixing the owners and the renters and those are really the ways of solving those problems. I think the question is shouldn’t museums be engaged, don’t we care about who’s living around us?
Matt Caines: Great. Okay, thanks for your questions, guys, and, once again, thanks Gail for answering those.
Gail Dexter Lord: Thank you.
Gail Dexter Lord, Co-President of Lord Cultural Resources spoke at MuseumNext Geneva in April 2015 about Soft Power and what this concept means for the 21st century museum. To stay informed about our International Museum Conferences follow MuseumNext on Twitter or like MuseumNext on Facebook.