What are rural museums anyway?

Cornwall is categorised as a rural region.

Cornwall is categorised as a rural region.

On 13 June #museumhour debated rural museums, or museums in rural regions. It didn’t take long for the farm jokes to start. The debate was guest-hosted by Cornwall Museums Partnership and Highland Museums Partnership and mainly involved questions about the challenges of working in museums in rural places and the benefits they provide to their communities.

We were also reminded that rural museums also exist in cities (lots of contributions from Museum of English Rural Life in Reading), bringing the whole urban v rural debate a new dimension.

It still bothers me as to what different people mean when they talk about rural museums and what kinds of preconceptions exist about them amongst policy makers, pundits and practitioners when they discuss rurality.

Cornwall is categorised as a rural region and certainly there aren’t the big cities that exist elsewhere and its undeveloped transport system means it definitely feels like it is rural and remote here but there are still a surprising number of towns here with their own urban communities and heritage–some of which are served by their civic museums.

I’d like to explore this more, especially in the context of what civic museums are.

You can read some of the debate on Storify but, as ever, a number of side discussions and points were made that are worthwhile recording too so the ideas can be shared and debated further. It was particularly good to get contributions from Australia and the USA.

Here is a list of thoughts made by me and a couple of others in the debate:

  1. Working in a rural context seems to be 10x harder.
  2. There’s growing discussion of ‪civic museums amongst policy makers but rarely defined. What about civicness in ‪rural regions?
  3. There are hundreds of towns and urban centres in ‪rural regions. Countryside and rurality are relative.
  4. In US, many, many museums are ‪rural museums, in location, coll, or both. Represent important record of life in those areas (Tracey Berg-Fulton, USA).
  5. Largest no. of Accredited museums in UK run by ‪@nationaltrust in mainly ‪rural areas? ‪
  6. I think voices from museums in ‪#rural regions esp in big debates such as ‪diversity tend to be forgotten.
  7. Many cope on budgets that would be laughed at elsewhere, doing great stuff ‪(Mary O Toole).
  8. They are, alas, often the most vulnerable (funding, staffing, facilities). The loss of rural museums =devastating loss of memory ‪(Tracey Berg-Fulton, USA).
  9. Does quality more than quantity of engagement matter more for ‘small’ museums in ‪rural places? ‪
  10. It’s so important to challenge the assumptions inherent in categorisation. ‪
  11. What does everyone think about the idea that museums need to reflect national ‪diversity in some cases rather than regional? From report on ‪diversity in museum workforce esp in specialist roles.
  12. Huge retired population here [Cornwall] so no shortage of people with skills and interest. 37% of pop volunteer (not just museums).
  13. Retired population certainly helps, volunteers who join enjoy it immensely as its counteracts rural isolation (Helston Museum).
  14. Some bonza Aussie rural museums: QANTAS Founders Museum @qfom, Stockmans Hall of Fame @ASHOFAustralia, Carnamah Museum @carnamah (Heritage People, Hobart).
  15. Also problem of categorisation – such as what to do with industrial structures in rural areas (Dr. James Lattin).
  16. Ought to bring ‪coastal perspectives into a future ‪#museumhour debate on regional differences.
  17. Being connected online is a massive antidote to isolation often encountered working in ‪rural regions.

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