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Museums: From Cabinets of Curiosity to Cultural Shopping Experiences

Museums: From Cabinets of Curiosity to Cultural Shopping Experiences

Booth, Elizabeth and Powell, Raymond (2016) Museums: From Cabinets of Curiosity to Cultural Shopping Experiences. In: Tourism and Culture in the Age of Innovation: Second International Conference IACuDiT, Athens 2015. Springer Proceedings in Business and Economics (SPBE) . Springer, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 131-143. ISBN 978-3319275277 ISSN 2198-7246 (Print), 2198-7254 (Online) (doi:

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The evolution of the museum in society has been extensively considered in both the museums and marketing literature. Museums began life as private collections assembled as spectacles for the benefit of a chosen few (‘cabinets of curiosity’). Over time, in response to changes in society, a broader vision of their role evolved, anchored in ideas of public benefit and community engagement with common cultural heritage. Organisations such as ICOM (the International Committee on Museums) have been established (1946) to monitor and regulate approaches to their management worldwide.

Scholarly and custodial functions are now rooted at the heart of the museum, but museums have also gradually embraced an outward perspective towards the visitor. Since the 1990s visitor experience, education and entertainment have become embedded into general mission statements alongside the more traditional curatorial roles. The theme of evolution in museum role is perennial and leads to the consideration of current trends and changes in its emphasis.

As cultures of consumption have increasingly become pervasive in Western society, and economic constraints have led to cuts in Government funding of culture, the UK’s nationally-funded museums have now become adept at generating income from trading and other sources. An emergent strand of literature suggests that alongside the—now, in the main accepted—visitor focus of museums, is the idea of the future of the museum as a ‘cultural shop’, implying a growing organisational orientation towards income generation. The parallel perspective on museums as part of the economic infrastructure, valued for multiplier effects related to tourism, leads to the central theme of this work—how is the increasingly commercial role of the museum influencing its visitor provision and hence its relationship to its publics?

The paper will provide an overview of the role and evolution of the museum to date prior to considering the development of role and function in one of the UK’s leading nationally-funded museums, London’s National Gallery. This museum is one of the UK’s flagship visitor attractions, the second-best attended in the country. A content analysis of visitor provision will be undertaken and the conclusions related to a framework based on visitor profiling, to try to understand how trading outlets and paid interpretation is currently influencing the museum product and its audiences.

Item Type: Conference Proceedings
Title of Proceedings: Tourism and Culture in the Age of Innovation: Second International Conference IACuDiT, Athens 2015
Uncontrolled Keywords: Museum management, museum orientation, visitor experience, income generation, museum interpretation
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Department of Marketing, Events & Tourism
Faculty of Business > Tourism Research Centre
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2020 21:17

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