I am engaged in a Masters' in Curatorship and like to share what I'm learning.

Is it possible to create one definition of museums that everyone agrees on for a long period of time (or forever)?

The current definition of museums according ICOM (the bible for museums):

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment."

The current definition has received a lot of critical feedback over the years. It has been changed over multiple times, but has remained the same since 2007. The definition continues to be challenged, as the heritage world keeps changing.

No definition for everyone

Getting everyone to agree on one definition will be difficult, as there are too many universal differences between museums. Furthermore, museums are a western creation, meaning that non-western museums and their definitions for their museums, would get excluded and the definition would be left non-inclusive (such a contradiction of what museums want to achieve)! This aside, looking at ICOM, I wonder if it would be possible for them to create a universal definition, as almost all museums that are connected to ICOM are western.

A possibility to create a future-proof definition

If it were not possible to create one definition everyone agrees on, would it be achievable to create a definition that is future-proof? Using foresight tools and global trends, I believe we could create a definition that will be more future proof. For example, the current definition does not leave much space for dynamics. It’s the opposite, it’s very static. Which is exceptionally different from not only the current and future affairs in museums, but also from contemporary live, as the world is so rapidly changing. The increased use of technology, and the continuous dangers of climate change are two examples of these changes in our lives. Museums are responding to this as they are becoming more interactive and sustainable. Visitors will have enhanced experiences that delight, engage, and educate in museums by for example augmented reality and virtual reality.


I believe that there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for a definition on museums, as different stakeholders hold different perspectives. Museum definition insights from non-western museum experts can shine new light on their perspectives, and how different or similar theirs are from the western museum community. I do believe we can make the definition future proof by understanding global trends and how they play a part in the future of museums. We might not be able to create one definition as they can be too versatile for different cultures, however we might be able to make it (or the multiple versions) future-proof.

The easiest way to understand museums

Is it possible to create one definition for museums?

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Henley Beach

South Australia

I create for a better future.

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