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Glasgow Stimulus Paper

Topic Area: Cultural Institutions as arenas for lifelong learning

Glasgow Museums/Glasgow Life: A learning institution and an agent of social change?

Glasgow Museums (GM) comprises 9 museums, including our flagship Kelvingrove, the internationally renowned Burrell Collection, the soon to open Zahah Hadid designed Riverside Museum of Travel and Transport, St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art (one of only 4 museums of religion in the world) and GoMA – the most visited contemporary art gallery outside London. We also have publicly accessible stores (archives), Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. The collection is as diverse as it is large – with 1.4 million items. These range from world class collections of fine art to one of the finest arms and armour collections in Europe to natural history, social history, costumes and textiles, transport and technology and world cultures. Over 60% of the collection is of national or international significance.

Glasgow Museums receive over 3 million visits per year. All our museums are free to visit and most are open 7 days a week. There is a long-standing local tradition of museum visiting (with about an average 2 visits per year by every citizen) with a wide social range – 40% of our visitors coming from working class backgrounds.  

GM is part of a larger organization – Glasgow Life - a charitable company who manage the City’s cultural and sporting services on behalf of Glasgow City Council. [1]

Glasgow has a population of 600,000 and is the fourth largest city in UK and largest in Scotland. It is also home to the most ethnically diverse population in Scotland.  Glasgow is currently one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the UK and now a popular tourist destination, third after London and Edinburgh. It is also a city with some of the worst statistics in Western Europe for generational worklessness, poor health and low educational attainment. Despite the recent period of relative prosperity, a third of the population is living in poverty with little hope or aspiration and the average life expectancy for men in some of the poorest areas of Glasgow is 60, 14 years less than in better off areas.

Glasgow Museum’s role in the city as an arena for lifelong learning has been shaped by its historical position as an industrial giant of the British Empire and its attempts reverse the devastating social impacts of the major industrial and economic decline it has experienced since the 1960s and 70s. The city began this process 30 years ago by building a new identity on different economic bases, bolstered by culture, creativity and innovation.


Civic ambitions and expectations: culture as an agent for social change

Many British museums were established in the Victorian era with a commitment to ‘the people’s education’. This fundamental element of the civic museum movement  - learning linked with civic ideals and economic development: creating model citizens by inspiring and educating  - continued and is still evident today. In Glasgow the emphasis and expectations of this role changed with the city’s need to change. Civic expectations were higher:  museums should not just inspire but also contribute to social transformation; they also had to compete internationally for the tourist market in order to contribute to economic growth.

In order to be effective arenas for learning, museums themselves must be learning institutions able to adapt and change. GM had to change the way it engaged with local people. A commitment to engaging with Glasgow’s increasingly diverse population was also a driver. Through a process of institutional change and development, GM adopted an active social justice model[2]. This was realized by investment in its cultural assets (refurbishing old and creating new museums, arts centres and concert halls) and staff with the skills to engage with people:  for example, the creation of the Open Museum (outreach service) in 1990 and the Learning and Access department and Collections research team in 2002, following the city council’s best value review,[3] which spelled out the civic expectation that investment in museums was predicated on their ability to contribute to the city’s social agendas on learning, health, urban and economic regeneration and international reputation. 

The GM approach to lifelong learning

Within the museums all the galleries and displays are potentially ‘learning arenas’ for self-led exploration and discovery.   The permanent learning programmes (both targeted and universal) provide additional pathways for learning and different points of entry to the museums.  GM currently reaches over 200,000 people (children, families, schools, adults, community groups) annually through its learning programmes.

These have been designed strategically to meet the needs of 3 levels of participant:

  1. Those that require targeted and sustained assistance and development to engage
  2. Those that engage through a formal group
  3. Those that engage independently through their own motivation.

Engaging effectively with these three user levels requires a responsive balance of access, activity and programming within venues and through outreach.  This level of service also requires interdisciplinary collaboration, with a balance of professional staff with audience knowledge and staff with collections knowledge – and increasingly those with both. The programmes’ success requires access to, and support from, all areas of the museums collections, processes and venues.  This is because the primary and critical learning tool is the unique resource museums hold - their collections. The lifelong learning offer includes volunteer and placement opportunities – these are taken up for learning for pleasure, social experiences, skills development, professional development, work experience, experience for higher and further education courses and research at undergraduate and post graduate levels.  Museums host over 350 volunteers each year.


Key success factors

Embedding the requirements for access into core displays, not relying on programmes to provide a bridge to the museums’ most basic service.  The accessibility of displays is tested throughout the period of development through research with target visitor groups.

Responding to changing educational/learning methodologies has been integral: greater understanding of learning styles, learning environments and the power of objects and paintings to inspire learning

Collaborative partnerships and skills sharing with other agencies such as social workers, Teachers, care workers, youth workers, play workers, mental health providers, artists, performers etc. Sharing practice and skills enhances learning provision and staff skills in understanding diverse audiences and learning through culture.

Being part of Glasgow Life[4], we are strategically linked to the city’s community planning framework and objectives. Our services are measured against our impact in contributing to the learning, health, vibrancy and economic development in the city. As a learning provider we are measured through national frameworks such as HMIE[5] and How Good is our Community Learning.

GM has extended the Museums’  ‘arena for learning’ well beyond their four walls through the Open Museum outreach service, now in its 20th year of operation. It was set up (originally in partnership with the Social Work department) to take objects to communities across the city and engage with people who traditionally wouldn’t or couldn’t visit museums. GM’s arena for learning extends to care homes, community centres, children’s centres, hospitals, libraries and prisons. The work is diverse and widespread. All of it uses collections – taking them out of the museum stores through collaborative projects, loans kits, travelling exhibitions, community museums. OM works in long term partnerships with youth workers, health workers, occupational therapists, prison staff and housing associations to enable the collections to inspire and support projects which make a difference to people’s lives and communities through the experiences, learning and skills that come from this work.  Over 1,000 loans of handling kits and exhibitions are made each year to over 120 different organizations and locations.


Challenges and opportunities

New social models and economic climate means partnership is more vital than ever. E.g. The Collaborative Framework Agreement with Glasgow University[6], partnership with Strathclyde University Centre for Lifelong learning, partnership with City of Glasgow College (Metropolitan college) and Pathways to Wellbeing (a strategic Glasgow Life initiative working with housing associations, health services and employment agencies to connect non-users who might benefit from engagement with culture through network of referrals.)

GM, with the rest of Glasgow Life is developing an understanding of how culture contributes to health and wellbeing – the evidence suggests that regular participation in culture is a separate variable which contributes measurably to longevity.  Based on this new perspective, we are developing new services and approaches, including a formal partnership arrangement with health services.

The economic climate is taking Glasgow Life and GM into restructure and review in order to meet savings. It is shaping a new strategic direction for Glasgow Museums and Glasgow Life. Lifelong Learning, capacity building and wellbeing have been identified as core functions – but the way they are delivered by the different cultural institutions within the organization will change, with a greater emphasis on integrated working and integrated staff.

In order to be effective arenas for lifelong learning, cultural institutions have to be learning institutions.  



  1. How should we define the core functions of museums in the 21st Century if they are truly to be arenas for learning?
  2. How do museums/cultural institutions become effective learning institutions themselves – for their staff, key stakeholders as well as visitors and participants?
  3. How far can partnership go to extending the role of museums as providers of lifelong learning?
  4. How should Museums ensure that they represent and learn from new communities successfully to enhance their knowledge of existing collections and collect effectively into the future? Can they keep up and continue collecting to stay relevant to future generations and their learning needs?
  5. Can museums effectively challenge prejudice and intolerance, when they are usually seen as celebratory and consensus institutions?


Janice Lane is author of this paper.  She is Learning and Access Manager with Glasgow Museums, leading one of the largest and most innovative museum learning and engagement teams in the UK.  Her work with Glasgow’s nine museums and galleries has included major exhibitions and a range of innovations which have involved both traditional and new audiences and partnerships.     

January 2011

[1] Glasgow Life comprises Museums, Arts, Libraries, Sports and Events, Area Services and latterly Glasgow Concert Halls, bringing under one organization the main cultural assets and services of the city. Formally a department under the direct control of the city council Glasgow Life became an arms length charitable company in 2007.


[2]  Mark O’Neill (Head of GM 1999 – 2009) In his discussion of museum access and museums’ core functions, analyses how this role has been interpreted and carried out by museums, and outlines 3 models of operation: the elite model, the welfare model and the social justice model.   There are similarities and cross-overs between the three models, but the fundamental difference shaping the social justice model is the understanding of the complex and integral role of museums in society and the recognition that: ”…(museums are) embedded in society and have responsibilities to that society to meet its standards of justice. (This model) … recognizes the historic and contemporary links between museums and structures of power”. Integral to this model is the commitment to access by ‘the people’  - not just in the provision of a learning programme – but also in all its processes, in its physical displays and in all its communications (conscious and unconscious). In comparison, O’Neill argues that the welfare model appears very similar, in that it has audience development and learning as key parts of its programming and purpose. Although staff roles and services are in place, the essential difference lies in their place within the museum – i.e. separate to the ‘professional’ or ‘core’ services of the museum i.e. preservation and exhibition. Thus audience/learning staff are outside of the real museum power structure and also the first casualties in economic downturns. O’Neill, M: Museums Access – welfare or social justice? October 2010

[3] Glasgow Museums Best value Review 2001. Glasgow City Council


[5] HMIE – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education: Scottish national evaluation and performance agency for Education (Schools) and community learning

[6] : The purpose of this Agreement is to develop strategic partnership working between the two institutions in order to maximize the potential of their collections as resources for learning, research and creativity.


The role of museums in challenging prejudice and intolerance

The Glasgow stimulus paper illustrates shifts in the roles of many museums as they have become increasingly agents of social change in progressing objectives such as social justice. In this more complex situation, museums often challenge prejudice and intolerance as well as more traditional celebratory and consensus functions.

In addition to Glasgow, museums across Europe have participated in projects directed at building intercultural understanding and tolerance such as the European project Museums as Places for Intercultural Dialogue (MAP for ID). Initiatives under MAP for ID such as Heritage for All in Turin demonstrate considerable innovation in developing the role of museums as agents of social change in rapidly changing societies. There is a publication available from this European project (ed Bodo, Gibbs, Sani).

A particular area of prejudice and intolerance that some museums are now addressing exists in attitudes towards Aboriginal peoples in countries such as Australia and Canada. Examples exist in the work of the splendid Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver while Cairns in tropical Australia is planning a new museum which will have an orientation to wards the culture of Aboriginal peoples. While much has been done, more needs to be done in progressing the vision of the UNESCO Delors Commission of "Learning to live together, Learning to live with others" as one of the four pillars of education.


Impact of Economic Restraint and Restructuring

There is much that is intriguing here.  In Vancouver, we are seeking to forge closer and more strategic ties with our Art Gallery, museums, science centers, planetarium, and recreational factilities.  The thoughtful, far-sighted approach of the Glasgow Museum is inspiring.  The development, sustainability, and role of Glasgow Life -- specifically being at arm's length from the municipal government -- is also interesting.

With its attendance to accessibility, client responsiveness, innovative collaboration, and strategic integration, the Glasgow Museum appears definitely to have broadened the culture /learning overlap that is so critically important to learning communities. We would be interested to hear more about whether and how it plays a provocateur role in the community -- making deliberate forays into controversial issues that reflect the ethnic diversity and socio-economic disparities of the city.  Has it had success in building community by bringing people together in this way?

The impact of the economic climate in Glasgow is one that many communities probably share.  We applaud the continuing emphasis on lifelong learning, capacity building, and well-being but will watch with curiosity to see the effects of the more "integrated" delivery approach over time.  As compelling as efficiencies and cost-savings can be (and we are probably all feeling the pressure to achieve them in one way or another), they may come at a price in terms of partnerships, client service, and creative freedom and innovation.  We will watch with curiousity how the Glasgow Museum and Glasgow Life are able to manage this dynamic.



Public service budgets serving the public not organisations?

The Glasgow paper highlights the importance of a culture (organisational) change that it proving veru difficult, namely, public organisations understanding their place, and that of their individual budgets, in the totality of public service. The integrated delivery that Stacey refers to, is indeed compelling, however, this can evaporate very rapidly behind closed doors when organisations are striving to become leaner. The tendency to deliver that which is a core service can easily take precedence over an altruistic approach to partnership in which public services would say, 'we aren't best placed to be doing x, why not you do it and here's our share of the money.'

At times of greatest financial constraint, leaders of organisations ought to be more creative than ever, thinking the unthinkable and taking the generational view rather than that of the short-term.

Perhaps we need to understand better the toatality of public spending and activity in order to be able to discuss the budgets of museums in the same same breath as that of hospital, schools, social services and policing.

Intolerance and the experience of the Museum of Religious Life

Further to your question Janice on museums challenging prejudice and intolerance, what has been the experience of Glasgow's Museum of Religious Life and Art? Has there been any evaluation of its impact? What have been the responses of visitors?

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life adn Art - some experiences

hi - interesting question and I would like to hear more form other poeple's work around challenging prejudice through museums.  I'll give quite a long answer as the Museum's expereinces cover nearly 14 years and a range of different experiences and initiatives. Since its opening in 1993, the museum has actively fostered and supported interfaith and inter - religious movements and dialogue. For example the Museum was home to the Scottish Interfaith Council (SIC) in its early days. We were then part of Glasgow City Council (GCC) department, Cultural and Leisure Services offered administrative space to the SIC within St Mungo Museum. SIC is still in operation but is now based elsewhere in the city.

In 2005, The Scottish Executive ran a 3 year Interfaith Liaison Officer pilot in partnership with GCC as part of its national action plan on tackling sectarianism in Scotland. This post was based within the St Mungo Museum team throughout the pilot. The museum team and the Interfaith Liaison Officer worked together to develop a series of programmes and events throughout the city and also to encourage the faith communities to engage with civic processes. This created some interesting partnership links and also encouraged the museums learning and curatorial teams to work across boundaries and engage with government initiatives As such the museum has and is working with organisations such as Nil By Mouth (tackling sectarianism), Scottish Refugee Council and the organisations supporting the city’s asylum integration process. This post of Interfaith Liaison Officer was formally evaluated by the then Scottish Executive. However, the pilot was not continued following the change of government in 2009– but within the final review there was an expectation that St Mungo Museum would continue to explore and develop similar themes and relationships. (For more information on this government initiative see Sectarianism: Update on Action Plan on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland, 2007, published on the Scottish Government website). 

 The Learning & Access team’s work around sectarianism with voluntary organisations such as Nil By Mouth and  the City’s Sense over Sectarianism partnership (which includes GCC), culminated in a programme of facilitated sessions for schools and other organisations, tackling this issue with children, young people, teachers and other practitioners directly. These continue to be part of our learning programmes and when they were launched were promoted by Learning and Teaching Scotland (national agency for education). This approach to issue based learning through objects and collections has also been a feature of Glasgow Museums work in, for example, in Gallery of Modern Art.

 The museum was controversial when it opened due to its multi-faith approach and did experience public attack. However, the museum now enjoys the support of the major faiths across the city, including the presbytery and arch diocese of Glasgow.

 Going forward, St Mungo Museum’s focus and work has moved much more into engaging with inter-cultural experiences and issues – as well as interfaith. This is in response to the changing demographics of Glasgow and the greater diversity in the city.  The major project we are currently working on within St Mungo’s Museum is called Curious. This is a multi-strand, 3 year project funded through Legacy UK and Creative Scotland to celebrate the 2012 Olympics, and prepare for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.  The project has four main strands – a community-led exhibition, a training programme, schools programme and conference.

The project strands are underpinned by a programme of community engagement which includes faith groups and Glasgow’s new communities, as well as longer-standing communities. As a way of learning organisationally and developing new relationships the project is proving very exciting – both in the long term relationships we are developing with individual participants as well as through the relationships with organisations, such as the city’s Integration networks, local colleges, community learning providers  and other cultural organisations.  For example, to research and develop the Training Programme strand, we worked with City of Glasgow College (a large Further Education organisation) to run sessions at the Museum and at the College with around 60 English as a Second Language (ESOL) and Business and Events students.  We were able to try out ideas, and gather information, for the training programme content.  The students welcomed the opportunity to explore issues around identity, cultural diversity and multiculturalism. The college is learning new teaching techniques from us and we are learning new skills from the tutors and students. This pilot work will shape the final training package as it is finalised over the next year and the college (with other partners) will continue working with us to achieve this.

 As for a formal study of the impact of St Mungo Museum on prejudices, Leicester Museums Research Centre for Museums and Galleries conducted research at St Mungo Museum for inclusion in: Museums, prejudice and the re-framing of difference by Richard Sandall (published by Routledge, 2007). Our own analysis of our visitors' responses and comments has been used to shape the programmes and exhibitions at the Museum over the years. Exhibitions have explored issues and experiences such as racism, sectarianism, pilgrimage and death. We run annual debate and discussion programmes called Faith to Faith and Meet Your Neighbour. Topics have ranged from religion and love, to transgender in faith and Godless morality. These themes were informed by visitors’ comments on the lack of discussion around some of these issues. 

St Mungo Museum recently changed the format of the programme, again based on visitors comments so that we can stay true to our work on interfaith and intercultural dialogue, whilst at the same time making our programme more comprehensive.  The new programme includes a pilot interfaith programme with 8 representatives of world faiths and will use the objects in our collection to initiate dialogue.  The pilot is a partnership between St Mungo, Scottish Interfaith Council and The University of Glasgow, Department of Theology.  It is hoped the structured, facilitated sessions will provide us with a format to run a series of debates on religion and related issues, e.g. religion and conflict, which would involve the wider community and general public.  The aim of the pilot is that the museum might become a recognised centre for interfaith dialogue. St Mungo Museum is also hosting a film club in partnership with Filmbank, which incorporates screenings and forum discussion.  Film topics and related discussion link to our exhibitions. The wider series of talks and discussions include Creationism and Evolution, as well as some talks on local history, again linking to the  Museum’s collections and the site of the museum, which is of great significance in terms of both history and religion; talks related to our exhibitions, for example to complement our current Stardust – Thoughts on Death, we have a session delivered by a midwife who is a trained storyteller, who will talk about childbirth;  talks on herbalism and healing, connected to our St Nicholas Garden and the herbs grown and maintained by our volunteers. St Mungo Museum have entered into a Fellowship with the Scottish Storytelling Centre which will allow us to evaluate the use of storytelling in the museum and using stories to interpret the objects.  We anticipate sessions with our previously mentioned project Curious as well as pre 5 nurture sessions, and a programme with self help groups at the neighbouring Royal Infirmary.

 We would very much like to hear more  from other contributors on their experiences of intercultural dialogue and interfaith work - or others' experiences of museums' work in these areas.


St Mungo Museum experiences

Dear Janice

Thank you. This is very helpful. The Hume Global Learning Village is planning a 3 year project on intercultural understanding and learning to run over 2011 to 2013 with 2011 devoted to planning. Is there any single message you would like me to pass on to the planning group. This is an area where Glasgow and Hume might share experiences once the Hume project is under way.

Do any other participating PIE cities have current projects in this area? I wonder Stacey what the experience of Vancouver has been with your significant Asian ethnic communities?

Museums 21st Century - back to the roots?

I am very happy to read your paper Janice! And I think we are quite many curators and antiquarians who agree with you. I am inspired to look at the way forward for museums and find it reasonable to understand directions forward after having a look at the directions for museums until the present day.

When we read about the historical development of the museums in most countries I think we have lived to long with an assumption which has been narrowed down to the museums role for producing identity – national, regional and local – through illustrating and demonstrating common culture, roots and implicitly also destiny.

In a globalised society we in the museums do not feel tempted to describe the aim of our work in this way today. But nevertheless I think that if we look into the roots we may find that the classical description of the museums early history is too simplified as it does not address the effect of the work which the museum founders did. I think that it can be argued that the museums by producing nationalism prevented struggles between the classes.

Today, as you say “our services are measured against our impact in contributing to the learning, health, vibrancy and economic development in the city”. Well, what I think is that the museums ability to contribute to economic and human capital development based on social cohesion to my mind seems to be relatively in line with the history of the museums – just remembering that we have moved from a national to a global cultural setting and therefore in stead of preventing class struggles are engaged with preventing ethnic and cultural struggles. Still our main way of functioning is developing competences in the individual as well as in the group.

Museums: from national to global cultural setting

Henrik, I was fascinated by your account of the evolution of museums from their origins to the present with a move from a national to a global cultural setting. I think your thesis applies to more than museums and has implications for the way we regard learning in cities. Your comment on competences echoes comment in several blogs.  However, do you see this in terms of the EU framework of competences as national programs of key competences vary somewhat between countries such as Canada and Australia and the EU set.

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