Public memories and private tastes: the shifting definitions of museums and their visitors in the UK

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There is no doubt that museums now operate in a distinctly different market to those of the past. Rottenberg [Rottenberg, B. (2002). Museums, information and the public sphere. Museum International, 54(4), 21–28] identifies the two major trends in museums in the latter years of the 20th century as being ‘the prevalence of a new market-orientated ideology that stressed the importance of revenue generation’ and ‘the introduction of new technologies that transfixed not only the museum profession, but also the world’. The main impact, which these and other changes have had is the revision of the museum into a setting for recreational experiences [Foley, M. and McPherson, G. (2000). Museums as leisure. International Journal of Heritage Studies 16(2), 161–174; Stephen, A. (2001). The contemporary museum and leisure: Recreation as a museum function. Museum Management and Curatorship 19(3), 297–308], rather than an educative one. This paper attempts to address some of these shifts in ideology and purpose.

The main concern that museums face as they become more ‘recreation-focused’ is that they will lose what has long been believed to be their ‘integrity’, and thus stray from their original missions to preserve and educate, with critics suggesting that they may simply become arenas for pleasure rather than education.

This paper concludes that in future, it seems inevitable that museums will become ‘hybrid places, combining recreation and learning, allowing visitors diversions from the intense stimuli of strolling through galleries and viewing multitudinous objects’ [Kotler, N. (2004). New ways of experiencing culture: the role of museums and marketing implications. Museum Management and Curatorship, 19(4), 417–425], with entertainment and education working together to fulfil the museum's mission. Museums need not be afraid of using entertainment, but should embrace it as a tool for learning, potentially attracting a wider and more diversified public.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-57
Number of pages14
JournalMuseum Management and Curatorship
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • museums
  • consumers
  • culture
  • marketplace ideology
  • retailing


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