currently valid museum definition of ICOM

«Un musée est une institution permanente sans but lucratif, au service de la société et de son développement, ouverte au public, qui acquiert, conserve, étudie, expose et transmet le patrimoine matériel et immatériel de l’humanité et de son environnement à des fins d’études, d’éducation et de délectation.»

„Ein Museum ist eine dauerhafte Einrichtung, die keinen Gewinn erzielen will, öffentlich zugänglich ist und im Dienst der Gesellschaft und deren Entwicklung steht. Sie erwirbt, bewahrt, beforscht, präsentiert und vermittelt das materielle und immaterielle Erbe der Menschheit und deren Umwelt zum Zweck von Studien, der Bildung und des Genusses.“

The draft of the new definition of museums

Creating a new museum definition – the backbone of ICOM


Over recent decades museums have radically transformed, adjusted and re-invented their principles, policies and practices, to the point where the ICOM museum definition no longer seems to reflect the challenges and manifold visions and responsibilities. We invited members and other interested parties to take part in creating a new, more current definition. New proposals were published here on a continuous basis.

Following the processes of active listening, collecting and collating alternative definitions through its standing committee on Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP), the Executive Board of ICOM, at its 139th session in Paris on 21-22 July 2019 reached the following decision.

The Executive Board selected the below as a new alternative museum definition for a vote to be included in the ICOM Statutes instead of the current museum definition at ICOM’s next Extraordinary General Assembly (EGA), which will take place on 7 September 2019, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Kyoto International Conference Center (ICC Kyoto) in Kyoto, Japan:

Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.

Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.

The discussion about the new museum definition of ICOM


Liebe Mitglieder,

bei der nächsten Generalversammlung von ICOM in Kyoto steht am 07.09.2019 die Neufassung der ICOM-Definition von „Museum“ auf der Tagesordnung. Wir möchten dies zum Anlass nehmen, unsere Mitglieder mit einem Zwischenbericht auf dem Laufenden zu halten.

Alle Mitglieder von ICOM waren eingeladen, Formulierungsvorschläge online einzureichen; es wurden auch Vorschläge aus Deutschland gemacht. Das Beratungsergebnis des beauftragten ICOM Komitees hat das Executive Board von ICOM passiert und steht nun online zur Verfügung:

Der Vorstand von ICOM Deutschland hat darauf umgehend mit einem Memorandum reagiert, weil nach unserem Eindruck der Beschlussvorschlag zwar zahlreiche Formulierungen im Sinne eines Mission Statements für das 21. Jahrhundert enthält, aber grundlegende, seit Jahrzehnten unveränderte definitorische Elemente gestrichen wurden. Dazu gehört zum Beispiel, dass Museen auf Dauer angelegte Institutionen sein müssen. Deswegen ist ICOM Deutschland auch einem von ICOM Europa initiierten Antrag beigetreten, den Beschluss über eine Änderung der Museumsdefinition um wenigstens ein Jahr aufzuschieben:

Zeitnah nach Kyoto informieren wir Sie gern über den Fortgang.

Ihr Vorstand von ICOM Deutschland


Invitation to postpone the EGA on the adoption of a new Museum Definition

The “Invitation” to postpone the Extraordinary General Assembly of ICOM, convened to Kyoto, is continuing to receive new adhesions (the last one being ICOM Turkey). The formal subscribers represent now more than the half of all ICOM members. And an important number of other National and International Committees did express their intention to vote in accordance, even if not subscribing the “Invitation” before the EGA, mostly due to difficulties in assembling boards in time.

The potential divisive, or even schismatic, results from the adoption of a definition which a significant part of members (now it is clear that the majority part) doesn’t accept at all are apparently over passed. By not voting the referred definition in the EGA, and postpone this matter, time is allowed for deeper and more transparent discussion involving the real base structure of ICOM and it will hopefully also be avoided the freezing effect of just keep the current definition – the expectable outcome of just voting the rejection of the presented proposal.


Fellow ICOM-US Colleagues,
Among the topics slated for discussion at the upcoming General Assembly of ICOM during it’s triennial meetings in #Kyoto next week is the sustained effort since the last triennial held in Milan in 2016 devoted to the development of a modernization of the definition of #museums.
The process of updating the ICOM definition of #museum will be discussed on September 3 in a plenary and workshops. We want to thank our members who over the past several years have participated in the listening sessions that have helped us understand your ideas on the definition of museums in today’s world. Thank you all for your contributions during this process.
ICOM-US is supportive of this new definition of museums. As has happened in the past, this definition is a working document and may continue to be improved over time. We look forward to this opportunity to modernize the definition to reflect where museums are today and/or aspire to be.
Safe travels and we look forward to seeing you in Kyoto!

The United States National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-US)

#ICOMKyoto2019 #ICOMKyoto #ICOMKyotoUS #icomUSKyoto2019 ICOM Europe #talkingaboutmuseum #thefutureofmuseums David de la Torre Diana Pardue Kate Quinn #Kyotomuseums #kyototriennial #ICOMtriennial Antonio Rodriguez ICOM ICEE International Coalition of Sites of Conscience Eric Dorfman Icom Nathist Lonnie Bunch Rick West Lourdes Monges Tom Loughman Kathy Dwyer Southern ICOM Brasil ICOM Australia ICOM Denmark International Council of Museums – Svenska ICOM ICOM Ecuador ICOM Colombia ICOM PERÚ – Página Oficial ICOM Arabe المنظمة العربية للمتاحف ICOM Canada
ICOM CR Lauran Bonilla-Merchav

Interviews on the topic #museumdefinition

Interview with Jette Sandahl

Interview with Jette Sandahl

Interview with Lourdes Monges

Article Hyperallergic

A New Definition of “Museum” Sparks International Debate

The International Council of Museums will vote on a new definition of museums in September. The proposed change includes language about “social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.” Critics say the text is too political for most museums to employ.

A New Definition of “Museum” Sparks International Debate

own contributions on the topic #museumdefinition

Here you can find a documentation of our own little project #museumdefinition (on Twitter and Facebook)

#museumdefinition /#museumsdefinition

What exactly is a museum? Icom comes to blows over new definition

Article in Artnewspaper

What exactly is a museum? Icom comes to blows over new definition

As 50-year-old statement is overhauled, feuds over new description could „seriously weaken“ the International Council of Museums

Vincent Noce

  1. August 2019

“Major dissent” has been predicted if the proposed definition for museums is adopted at Icom’s general assembly on 7 September. Photo: Scott Webb / Pexels

What exactly is a museum? If anyone knows, it should be the International Council of Museums (Icom), with its 40,000 members representing more than 20,000 museums. But that very question is, in fact, fuelling a bitter debate within the organisation and perhaps threatening its identity. On 12 August, 24 national branches—including those of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Canada and Russia, along with five museums’ international committees—requested the postponement of a vote on a revised definition of museums, in order to deliver a “new proposal”.

The new definition was selected by Icom’s executive board in Paris on 22 July, but the petition issued by the 24 national committees predicts “major dissent” if the proposal, which constitutes a “considerable shift”, is adopted at its general assembly on 7 September in Kyoto.

For the past few decades, Icom has made only minor adjustments to its current statement defining the museum as “a non-profit institution” that “acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.” But some people, including the Danish curator Jette Sandahl, object saying “it does not speak the language of the 21st century” and that it does not reply to current demands of “cultural democracy”.

Sandahl led the commission that put forward the new 100-word text, defining museums as “democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the past and the future”. It adds: “Addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.” They are supposed to be “participatory and transparent”, work “in active partnership with and for diverse communities“ and “aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing”.

“A definition is a simple and precise sentence characterising an object, and this is not a definition but a statement of fashionable values, much too complicated and partly aberrant.“ François Mairesse, a professor at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

Juliette Raoul-Duval, who chairs Icom France, quickly denounced an “ideological” manifesto, “published without consulting“ the national branches. “At first, I thought this was a joke,” says Didier Rykner, the founder of the Tribune de l’art, attacking what he describes as an Orwellian newspeak that replaces art works with artefacts and specimens. “The definition should emphasise the importance of the museums’ functions and its relationship to tangible and intangible heritage, which constitute its distinguishing characteristics from other cultural institutions,” claim the national committees which asked to delay the vote, deploring the “political tone” of Sandahl’s document.

A former director of Icom, and one of the founders of the concept of “new museology” in the 1970s, Hugues de Varine confesses that he was surprised by the “over inflated verbiage” of an “ideological preamble” which does not distinguish a museum from a cultural centre, a library or a laboratory.

The quarrel could be interpreted as a debate between the old guard and the younger generation, or between Latin tradition and the Anglo-Saxon move towards a more “inclusive” model. François Mairesse, a professor at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle and the chair of the International Committee of Museology, says the matter is more serious. He resigned in June from the commission headed by Sandahl, claiming the proposals “did not reflect the discussions held over two years”.

“A definition is a simple and precise sentence characterising an object, and this is not a definition but a statement of fashionable values, much too complicated and partly aberrant,“ Mairesse says. „It would be hard for most French museums—starting with the Louvre—to correspond to this definition, considering themselves as ‘polyphonic spaces’. The ramifications could be serious. Icom’s statement can be included in national or international legislation and there is no way a jurist could reproduce this text.”

Mairesse adds that „it does not take into account the extraordinary variety of museums. It would be disastrous to impose only one type of museum. If a vote breaks the consensus that has always governed Icom, it will seriously weaken the organisation.”

Correction: This article formerly stated that Icom’s current definition of a museum has been adhered to for the past 50 years. According to Icom’s website it has undergone „minor adjustments over the past few decades“.

Reopening the discussion about #museumdefinition

Dr. Peter KELLER

Director General │ Directeur Général Director General

ICOM – International Council of Museums

Dear Presidents of ICOM’s committees,

dear colleagues,

The publication of the proposal for a new museum definition on 25 July 2019 has provoked a heated discussion in social media and among ICOM’s committees. Since 2016, ICOM’s committees have organised conferences, seminars and roundtables in Costa Rica, Kenya, New Zeeland, United States of America, Singapore, Austria and many other countries, to debate the requirements and potentials of a new definition. These discussions were led by the ICOM Standing Committee on Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP) and supported by the activities of the International Committee on Museology (ICOFOM). From January to May 2019, all interested parties were invited to submit a proposal for a definition on the ICOM website, and 269 proposals were gathered. The Standing Committee analysed these proposals and edited five, which were submitted to the ICOM Executive Board. The Executive Board selected one of these proposals to be presented at an Extraordinary General Assembly during ICOM’s General Conference in Kyoto, Japan.

The ICOM Secretariat has supported the entire process logistically and administratively, promoted it in all media, communicated all outcomes, and managed the online platform. It also published articles discussing the new definition in the latest issue of the ICOM journal Museum International a copy of which will be available for all participants of the ICOM General Conference in Kyoto next week. The Secretariat is also preparing the Extraordinary General Assembly and the voting process that will take place.

I, as Director General of ICOM, and my collaborators at the Secretariat, have been deeply affected by the emotional reaction this proposal has provoked.

The strength of our network lies in its diversity, and its ability to overcome any linguistic, cultural and ideological barriers to ensure that the values of our museums are upheld and evolve to remain relevant in the world we live in today. The diversity of reflections on the new proposal to define our museums illustrates the need for ongoing cross-cultural debate and exchange on the future of our sector, independently of the decision that you, as our committees, will be taking.

We therefore call on all ICOM committees to express their opinion on the new museum definition proposal, to respect the democratic process according to ICOM’s statutes, and to respect the opinion of others. We ask you to bear in mind the importance of a united and unique global network of museums and museum professionals, the power of a global standard, and the consequences of any decision, be it for or against the proposal. We encourage you to discuss and analyse together the strengths and weaknesses of the existing definition and the new proposal, and to agree amicably and mutually on a definition that will continue to serve the museum field worldwide, acknowledging the core values of ICOM:

Independence, integrity, and professionalism.

Dr. Peter KELLER

Director General │ Directeur Général Director General

ICOM – International Council of Museums

Chères présidentes et chers présidents des comités de l’ICOM,

chers collègues,

La publication d’une proposition pour une nouvelle définition du musée, le 25 juillet 2019, a provoqué une discussion animée dans les médias sociaux et au sein des comités de l’ICOM. Depuis 2016, les comités de l’ICOM ont organisé des conférences, des séminaires et des tables rondes au Costa Rica, au Kenya, en Nouvelle-Zélande, aux États-Unis d’Amérique, à Singapour, en Autriche et dans de nombreux autres pays, afin de débattre les exigences et les potentiels d’une nouvelle définition. Ces discussions ont été menées par le Comité permanent de l’ICOM pour la définition du musée, perspectives et potentiels (MDPP) et ont été soutenues par les activités du Comité international de muséologie (ICOFOM). De janvier à mai 2019, toutes les parties intéressées étaient invitées à soumettre une proposition pour une définition sur le site Web de l’ICOM. 269 propositions ont été rassemblées. Le Comité permanent a analysé ces propositions et en a édité cinq, qui ont été soumises au Conseil d’administration de l’ICOM. Le Conseil d’administration a sélectionné l’une de ces propositions qui sera présentée à une Assemblée générale extraordinaire qui se tiendra lors de la Conférence générale de l’ICOM à Kyoto, au Japon.

Le Secrétariat de l’ICOM a soutenu l’ensemble du processus sur les plans logistique et administratif, en a assuré la promotion dans tous les médias, communiqué tous les résultats et géré la plate-forme en ligne. Il a également publié des articles sur la nouvelle définition dans le dernier numéro du périodique de l’ICOM Museum International dont un exemplaire sera disponible pour tous les participants à la Conférence générale de l’ICOM à Kyoto, la semaine prochaine. Le Secrétariat prépare également l’Assemblée générale extraordinaire et le processus de vote qui y aura lieu.

Moi-même en tant que Directeur général de l’ICOM et mes collaborateurs du Secrétariat, nous sommes préoccupés par la réaction émotionnelle que cette proposition a provoquée.

La force de notre réseau réside dans sa diversité et dans sa capacité à surmonter toutes les barrières linguistiques, culturelles et idéologiques pour garantir que les valeurs des musées soient préservées et évoluent pour rester pertinentes dans le monde dans lequel nous vivons aujourd’hui. La diversité des réflexions sur la nouvelle proposition visant à définir le musée illustre la nécessité d’un débat interculturel continu et d’un échange sur l’avenir de notre secteur, indépendamment de la décision que vous, nos comités, prendrez.

Nous appelons donc tous les comités de l’ICOM à exprimer leur opinion sur la nouvelle proposition pour une définition du musée, à respecter le processus démocratique selon les statuts de l’ICOM et à respecter l’opinion des autres. Nous vous demandons de garder à l’esprit l’importance d’un réseau mondial uni et unique de musées et de professionnels des musées, la puissance d’un standard mondiale et les conséquences de toute décision, que ce soit pour ou contre la proposition. Nous vous encourageons à discuter et à analyser ensemble les forces et les faiblesses de la définition existante et de la nouvelle proposition, et à vous mettre d’accord tous ensemble en concertation sur une définition qui continuera à servir le monde des musées dans le monde entier, en reconnaissant les valeurs fondamentales de l’ICOM:

Indépendance, intégrité et professionnalisme.

Dr. Peter KELLER

Director General │ Directeur Général Director General

ICOM – International Council of Museums

Estimadas presidentas y Estimados presidentes de los Comités del ICOM,

Estimados colegas,

La publicación de la propuesta para una nueva definición de museo el 25 de julio de 2019 ha provocado una acalorada discusión en las redes sociales y entre los comités del ICOM. Desde 2016, los comités del ICOM han organizado conferencias, seminarios y mesas redondas en Costa Rica, Kenia, Nueva Zelanda, Estados Unidos de América, Singapur, Austria y muchos otros países, para debatir los requisitos y el potencial de una nueva definición. Estas discusiones fueron dirigidas por el Comité Permanente de ICOM sobre Definición, Perspectivas y Potenciales del Museo (MDPP) y con el apoyo de las actividades del Comité Internacional de Museología (ICOFOM). De enero a mayo de 2019, se invitó a todas las partes interesadas a presentar una propuesta de definición en el sitio web del ICOM, y se reunieron 269 propuestas. El Comité Permanente analizó estas propuestas y editó cinco, que se presentaron a la Junta Ejecutiva del ICOM. La Junta Ejecutiva seleccionó una de estas propuestas para presentarla en una Asamblea General Extraordinaria durante la Conferencia General del ICOM en Kyoto, Japón.

La Secretaría del ICOM ha respaldado todo el proceso de forma logística y administrativa, lo promovió en todos los medios, comunicó todos los resultados y administró la plataforma en línea. También publicó artículos sobre la nueva definición en el último número de la revista del ICOM Museum International, una copia de la cual estará disponible para todos los participantes de la Conferencia General del ICOM en Kyoto la próxima semana. La Secretaría también está preparando la Asamblea General Extraordinaria y el proceso de votación que tendrá lugar.

Yo, como Director General del ICOM, y mis colaboradores en la Secretaría, nos hemos visto profundamente afectados por la reacción emocional que ha provocado esta propuesta.

La fuerza de nuestra red radica en su diversidad y su capacidad para superar cualquier barrera lingüística, cultural e ideológica para garantizar que los valores de nuestros museos se mantengan y evolucionen para seguir siendo relevantes en el mundo en que vivimos hoy. La diversidad de reflexiones sobre la nueva propuesta para definir nuestros museos ilustra la necesidad de un continuo debate e intercambio intercultural sobre el futuro de nuestro sector, independientemente de la decisión que ustedes, como nuestros comités, tomarán.

Por lo tanto, pedimos a todos los comités del ICOM que expresen su opinión sobre la nueva propuesta de definición del museo, que respeten el proceso democrático de acuerdo con los estatutos del ICOM y que respeten la opinión de los demás. Le pedimos que tenga en cuenta la importancia de una red global única y unida de museos y profesionales de museos, el poder de un estándar global y las consecuencias de cualquier decisión, ya sea a favor o en contra de la propuesta. Lo alentamos a debatir y analizar juntos las fortalezas y debilidades de la definición existente y la nueva propuesta, y a acordar de manera amistosa y mutua una definición que continuará sirviendo al campo del museo en todo el mundo, reconociendo los valores centrales del ICOM:

Independencia, integridad y profesionalismo.


ICOM UK committee and member feedback on ICOM’s new proposed museum definition

You can continue to share your opinions via this very short survey and on Twitter.

ICOM UK has declined to sign the letter that calls for the vote to be cancelled in Kyoto.  ICOM UK believes there should be a full debate in Kyoto about the new proposed definition, rather than sending it back to the ICOM Museum Definition Committee where it would be harder to get a sense of the views of the entire ICOM community.

my personal thoughts on museum definition