Innovation and the Irish museum


The weekend Irish Times carried an interesting article by Brian O’Connell on the slow pace of innovation at Irish museums– perhaps not a surprising conclusion to anyone who’s crossed their thresholds recently. With the Galway City Museum singled out for particular criticism, the article finds that despite some improvements, Irish museums lag pretty far behind their American and British cousins:

So, how do Ireland’s institutions compare with their international counterparts? Academic Pat Cooke admits there are challenges for Ireland’s museums, but says that some have already been quick to adapt and innovate in line with visitor expectations. “In general, the changes required have to do with museums consulting better with the public, finding out what people are genuinely interested in and putting on exhibitions that mean something to people,” he says.

Cooke highlights the Foynes Flying Boat Museum and the GAA Museum at Croke Park as examples of how Ireland’s museum sector has got it right. Others, he feels, are still too loyal to their archeological collections – with case after case of axes and flintheads doing little to inspire a new generation of visitors.

“The archeological mindset is the hardest one to crack,” says Cooke. “Like it or not, 90 per cent of people couldn’t care less about axeheads. Museums need other types of mindsets, other than purely archeological, to enable people connect on various levels.”

Lack of funding, of course, is the perennial scapegoat– yet it’s questionable whether such stagnation is solely the consequence of small budgets. Though it may be a controversial assertion, the leadership of our national institutions is not what it could be: saddled with a bureaucratic legacy and offering little in the way of fresh leadership perspectives, our museums have been sluggish in adopting new technologies and approaches now commonplace at other institutions. One look at the websites of the national institutions is very revealing… Flash? Podcasts? Interactivity? The room for improvement is tremendous…