August 12, 2020

Letter to the editor

The CMA sent the following letter to the editor to the New York Times in response to this article about the controversy surrounding work to come up with a definition of museums.

Alex Marshall’s article (“What is a Museum? A Dispute Erupts Over a New Definition,” Aug. 6) could leave a misapprehension of widespread division within the International Council of Museums over what the definition of a museum should be.

The article missed the key point. The essence of the debate has been not to define what a museum is, but rather to define what a definition is. The ICOM committee did not hear calls for a working definition to be more descriptive of what museums do. Most everyone liked what the committee produced as a vision statement, but it didn’t integrate the linguistic and legal terminology that defines the work of museums across the world.

The committee — now resigned — created an ideological split where there wasn’t one. The new committee should embrace the evolving ideology and expression of museums, while preserving the specificity of their work.
Now the community can come together and start with what our vision is, and produce an appropriate definition for what museums are in our rapidly changing world.

Dr. Vanda Vitali, Ph.D.
Executive Director and CEO
Canadian Museums Association

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