The curious idea of museums
This article originally appeared in The Big Issue magazine. Journalism worth paying for. What are museums for these days? Are collections passé? Northampton City Council's decision to sell off an ancient Egyptian statue to fund a museum extension, after striking a secret multimillion pound deal with the benefactor's family, outraged many local citizens. They're unconvinced that arts should be measured and managed only for the economic "value" of what you can buy with the cash. Before the urge to "engage" and "outreach" meant ripping out displays in favour of button pressing, funny animated character narrations (Stephen Fry as a "hilarious" gold bullion bar in the Bank of England museum is a particularly jarring example) and giant soft play areas, I loved the labyrinthine nature of old institutions: Glass cases full of giant crystals and meteorites that filled a whole Gothic gallery of the Natural History Museum; halls of terrifying and exotic Pacific island jade weaponry, conch shell