Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, recently published this article on ‘The Art Newspaper”. We re-post it here as a wish to all our readers for the next year(s).
Public museums “are the true teachers of a free people”. So said Gottfried Semper—architect, democrat and social reformer—when making the case for London’s South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum) in the mid-19th century. Semper thought that the rising tide of democracy in the 1800s meant that public collections had a pivotal duty to educate “our future masters”.
Today, the role of museums in supporting democracy strikes me as more vital than it has been for a generation. Around the world, the post-war tenets of liberal democracy are crumbling, and so it falls to institutions like museums—along with a free media, business, universities, faith bodies and civil society—to preserve the ecology of civic life.
The threats are multiple and growing. New books by two of the world’s leading philosophers, Francis Fukuyama and Kwame Anthony Appiah, highlight the challenge to modern representative government posed by the growing militancy of identity politics. On Left and Right, there is a highly emotional focus on gender, sexuality, ethnicity and nationhood as the drivers of political and personal identity. With it comes an increasingly zero-sum approach to discourse and deliberation: the right to assert one’s identity too often feels as though it must come at the cost of another (similarly aggrieved) group.
Read the full article on The Art Newspaper.