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The Process of Creating a New Definition of Museums for the 21st Century

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) at its triennial meeting held in Milan in 2016 established that a new definition of museum would be presented, discussed, evaluated and submitted for approval at the Kyoto meeting in 2019.


The Museum Potential, Prospecting and Definition Committee was created, which presented a mediation proposal in December 2018 to the ICOM Executive Council.  This proposal was approved and from then on, a process of inviting the participation of the various committees, both national and international, that are members of ICOM was initiated. A special page was created on the ICOM website to receive contributions from around the world.

At the end of June 2019, the Museum Potential, Prospecting and Definition Committee carried out a rigorous analysis and compilation of all submitted proposals, a total of 269.

From this work, the following definition proposal was then defined for presentation, evaluation and final approval:

“Museums are spaces for democratization, inclusion and polyphony for a critical dialogue about the past and the future. Recognizing and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they keep artifacts and specimens in the name of society, safeguarding various memories for future generations and guaranteeing equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.

Museums are not about profit. They are participatory and transparent and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit and improve understanding of the world in order to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and well-being the planet.”

It is also worth presenting the current definition, approved at the General Assembly held in Vienna in 2007:

“The museum is a permanent non-profit institution, at the service of society and its development and open to the public, which acquires, preserves, studies, exhibits and transmits the material and immaterial heritage of humanity and its environment, for the purpose of study, education and delight.”

The great challenge that is posed is to assess whether the new proposal contemplates the cultural diversity of the member countries and how this change may have an impact on public policy related to museums in the world.

On the other hand, also assessing where the current definition corresponds or not to what society thinks, desires and yearns for museums.

It is a complex and challenging process, but extremely necessary, not only for reflection, but to place it more and more widely in society.