Instrumentalism: The functional uses of national museums

An obvious example of such instrumental intentions can be found in how national museums can be deliberately utilised for reasons of economic and urban regeneration. Cases exemplifying such developmental intentions can be found in, for example, the locating of the Tate Modern in a disused power station in a relatively deprived location on the River Thames in London, or the construction of new national museums in Dubai and Qatar as part of major development projects undertaken in Arab Gulf states - often in conjunction with significant Western museums and galleries, such as the Louvre, the Guggenheim and the British Museum. Needless to say such developments are justified in part, at least, in terms of the museums themselves and what these developments can offer in terms of exhibition and display, and the creation of new cultural opportunities for cities, regions and countries through the utilisation of museums and their resources. Underlying these cultural and museums benefits, however, are the accompanying economic, social and political benefits that are anticipated to be created as, in economic terms, spill-over effects that arise as a consequence of having national museums located where they are. Teasing out the differing benefits that can be identified as being deliberately instrumental consequences that arise from national museums is difficult when such museums have been established for many years in the same place, and it is easier to identify them when museum locations are changed or new museums and subbranches are created. It can certainly be said that many local museum developments around the world have been undertaken with an explicit intention to create regenerative benefits for local areas, of which the case of the Bilbao Guggenheim (Sylvester, 2009, 113-36) is a prime example, but the extent to which this is equally as true for developments with national, rather than private, museums remains to be seen.

The sheer cost of establishing new national museums or relocating parts of their collections to new sites within countries, either at home or overseas, almost inevitably means that national governments are likely to have a real interest in how these museums contribute to their own, specific, political agendas, and, in a more general sense, to the 'nation' as a whole. Thus the establishment of the new National Museum of Contemporary Art in South Korea has led to concerns that it has become subservient to the policy and managerial wishes of the state, and is being used to provide support for non-museum concerns, such as those of cultural diplomacy, rather than anything else (Lee, 2011, 382). Such a concern could also be levelled at other international collaborations between national museums in different countries, as with the moves by the Louvre to have parts of their collections exhibited in Arab Gulf state national museums: is the purpose of this concerned with matters of international relations and cultural diplomacy rather than with allowing for a greater and more geographically dispersed display of French national collections? In practice it is a bit of both, although it could be argued that the real beneficiary is the government of France rather than the peoples of any of the countries that are involved in this collections loaning process, as the French government can claim that its decisions contribute to international understanding, to cultural and economic development in the countries to which these loans are extended, and to the enhancement of France's own position and status in world politics regardless of anything else that these loans may contribute to. Such a view could also be taken to demonstrate that a consequence is that the French government enhances its own position as an important player in the game of international politics and thus contributes to French power in international negotiations, whilst equally legitimising France's international status as an important country to deal with. Whether this claim is true or not would depend upon the ability to measure French international political power and status both before the announcement of these loans and at a later date to establish some sort of longitudinal basis for evaluation. Given that nobody has yet undertaken such measurement means that the claim depends upon the extent to which it makes sense - and, in the absence of effective evaluative qualitative and quantitative data, that depends upon how meaningful the reader finds it be.

Despite this weakness in evaluating the reality of the outcome of instrumentalising policies it is evident that national museums are used for a large number of ancillary policy purposes - even if it can be extremely difficult to identify exactly what the results of these usages are. Indeed, the very establishment of the Louvre as the French national gallery was seen as 'a symbol of Revolutionary achievement and the cultural benefits of liberty' (McClellan, 1994, 92), both of which could then be used to bolster the legitimacy of the newly established revolutionary regime following the overthrow of the monarchy. A distinction can be usefully drawn here between policy instrumentalisation that is intended to have direct effects in terms of providing measureable outcomes, and that which is intended to have indirect effects through the production of symbolic outcomes. The former are largely concerned with explicit statements about what national museums 'should' be providing, while the latter operate through their more intangible effects in terms of ideology and legitimacy. Thus changing the educational role that museums and galleries can fulfil into this becoming what museums are primarily there to do, and a means to evaluate the effectiveness of national museums, also changes what these museums are meant to be providing, effectively making them extensions of the education system rather than anything else. Such a role can then be evaluated through the contribution that national museums make to educational performance and achievement - even if this is by no means a simple and unambiguous thing to do (Falk& Dierking, 2000, 173-74, 2013, 218-45; Hooper-Greenhill, 2007, 189-201). Regardless of the difficulties of this measurement some concrete evidence can be provided of the actual role that museums fulfil in terms of this instrumental function. With the more intangible and symbolic effects that museums can produce this becomes more and more difficult. Again, while the methodologies exist to identify the specific effects that museums may have in terms of these outcomes, it is by no means easy to apply them, and the evidence demonstrating these effects is not particularly methodologically strong (Galloway & Stanley, 2004; Jensen, 2013, 146).

These evaluative difficulties could lead to the position where the only meaningful approach to the analysis of museum effects would be to present a series of case-studies that are intended to demonstrate how and why museums are being used for instrumental ends by national political actors. This would shift the focus away from the specifics of national museums per se and towards the manner in which the museums sector as a whole can be used as a political tool for the fulfilment of particular policy objectives. To undertake this would necessarily require a consideration of the comparative policy importance of different arenas of governmental and political activity, and how this importance translates into a form of functional slippage for the museums sector where it is simply seen as being a contributor to, rather than a creator of, the policy requirements that governments are concerned with. At this stage it is apparent that the underlying assumption is that, for this to be relevant, the museums sector must be less important, in both political and policy senses, than are other policy sectors. The political and policy weakness of the museums sector could then be seen as the basic underlying reason for both its susceptibility to instrumentalising tendencies and the comparative ease with which instrumentalisation takes place. The question of the functions that museums fulfil becomes important in this consideration, as so often with questions in the museum sector. Museums are undeniably multi-functional organisations and this multi-functionality provides the opportunity for governments to shift the focus of their attention between functions quite easily: there is nothing about museums that establishes an effective functional hierarchy between their different activities, and thus there is nothing that is sacrosanct about which functions are to be considered significant or important at any given time. This flexibility could be seen as a weakness for museums when confronted with politically and policy-active governments insofar as their views about what are the most important functions for them to undertake can be potentially over-ridden with some ease as a result of the direct democratic legitimacy that governments have and which museums almost always lack. The same flexibility, however, can also be seen as a source of strength for museums as their capability to demonstrate their value to governments across a large number of discrete policy functions can provide them with a number of strategies to justify their continued existence. The ability of museums staff to show this value could also provide a demonstration of their political nous and management capabilities in being able to switch the arguments that they use to whatever the demands of national political actors may be, thus changing the focus from the structural weakness of the museums sector to the strength of the political agency that can be exercised by museums staff.

In many ways the evident weaknesses of the museums sector are, at least in part, a direct consequence of the multiple claims that come from within the sector about how good museums are at undertaking their functional activities. The claims that are made about the transformative role that museums can play through their direct contributions to education and identity formation are only a part of this, and the instrumentalisation of museums by political actors can be seen to be simply an extension of them. This then becomes a mutually reinforcing process of instrumentalisation and policy attachment (Gray, 2002). Where the focus of political actors is on policy concerns that are peripheral to the museums sector then claims about how museums can help in the fulfilment of these concerns can provide the sector with the finance, political support and legitimation of their existence that they require to ensure their survival. Providing supporting evidence for how good they are at this job - even if such evidence is methodologically dubious or relies simply upon anecdotal claims - can then lead governments to expect museums to be able to contribute to other policy objectives that they have, regardless of whether museums claim that they are capable of being able to do so or not. Thus museums can become entangled in a host of activities that do not fit comfortably with their already multi-functional nature but which they need to demonstrate their commitment to in order to continue to benefit from the resources that they have gained from earlier instrumental and attachment activities. This can generate claims that an excessive instrumentalisation of museum activities can shift the focus of what museums do away from their functional 'core' and towards policy concerns that are not those of the museums and their staff but those of other policy actors altogether. At worst this can become an implicit argument that museums should be isolated from the societies of which they are a part as a form of 'art's for art's sake' argument for museums, or that, in some sense at least, museum policy is more important than other policy concerns. Certainly these forms of arguments about the consequences of instrumentalisation are commonly employed: how useful they are is another question given that all policy is instrumental in one form or another

(Gray, 2008), meaning that the whole debate may not be as important as the disputing protagonists may think it is (Gibson, 2008).

Despite this questioning of the significance of the instrumentalisation debate it cannot be denied that it raises a number of important concerns regarding the politics of museums and how these play into the policies that museums are responsible for. Most importantly it raises questions about the political status of museums for governments in a different way to that considered earlier in this chapter. This change of focus moves away from the relative amounts of money that governments spend on the museums sector, or how governments can manipulate and control what occurs in museums and, instead, is concerned with the status of museum policies as a part of public policy as a whole. While national governments can clearly make use of national museums for their symbolic attributes in terms of both their own populations and their role in national identity formation, and in terms of their international status and significance, they can also make use of museums for far more mundane reasons that arise from their overall policy agendas. This can be understood by drawing a distinction between the sectorally specific and 'general' policy intentions of political actors: the former being concerned with the core decisions concerning what the sector is intended to be for, and do, in its own terms, and the latter being concerned with the policy intentions of political actors that are intended to under-pin the totality of their approach towards policy, and which cut across the concerns of individual policy sectors. In the case of the former quite detailed and specific policies concerning individual elements of what make policy sectors distinct would be expected to be produced, while, in the latter, more generalised policy expectations would be expected to be the order of the day, with these being turned into policy actions, objectives and intentions at the sectoral level. In the museums sector the difference would be between those policies that are concerned with the 'core' functions of museums (as seen in pages 3-6) and those which are concerned with, for example, environmental sustainability or antidiscrimination or the support of market competition. The latter policies are intended to apply in all areas of public policy while the former (as, for example, in the case of standards for the conservation of metal-work in museum collections) are strictly limited in their scope.

From the perspective of national political actors all these policies have an identical significance, but they have a quite different importance: they are all intended to be pursued by a variety of organisations and individual policy implementers, but their political meaning is quite distinct. 'Cross-cutting' policies lie at the heart of whatever political project national politicians seek to fulfil and can be expected to have a greater meaning for these politicians than those which are seen to be only marginally important to their large-scale political intentions. Integrating these marginal policy concerns with the broader policy intentions of governments can be achieved through a variety of devices, ranging from tying financial allocations to the meeting of general policy intentions to direct demands to incorporate these general intentions in sectoral policies. These variants imply the utilisation of versions of the carrot and the stick to those working within policy sectors in an attempt to get general intentions put into practice, but neither of these can be seen to be straightforward versions of policy instrumentalisation. Instead of making these general intentions the prime focus of the policies that are to be put into practice (which, after all, is the main concern of critics of policy instrumentalisation), they are simply expected to be built into the policy practice that individual sectors will be pursuing. The individual and specific policy concerns of different policy sectors are not therefore being replaced or over-written but are simply being expanded to incorporate newer policy expectations. It may also be true that older policy preferences are subtracted from the current policy stew that exists - on the basis, for example, that they are no longer part of the core government policy agenda - leading to a potential simplification of the policy expectations that museums could be expected to contribute to.

It would be unreasonable to expect that individual policy sectors would be left to simply pursue their own objectives and concerns given that this may well prove to be a recipe for policy confusion, with the potential for the creation of conditions where policies in different policy sectors conflict with each other, and where there is no overall sense of policy direction in existence in the first place. The establishment of general policy objectives and principles allows governments the possibility of assessing how the individual components of overall public policy are being met - or not - and the identification of policy sectors that may require direct intervention to ensure that they are playing their part in the overall aims that governments have established for themselves. There is an element in this argument that assumes that such a rational notion of overall government strategy can be seen to exist - which is an extremely dubious proposition as the garbage can model (Cohen et al., 1972) of policy development forcefully argues - but a less rational picture can also be constructed that is built around ideas and assumptions of relative policy importance. Governments have some reason to intervene in all policy sectors, whatever this reason may be, but while policy sectors are equal, as noted above, in terms of their significance and their requirement for continuous action and support, they are not equally as politically important as each other. This importance will vary over time and will be affected by a range of social, technological, economic and political factors (an argument dating back to Downs, 1972, and an important part of both punctuated equilibrium (True et al., 2007) and advocacy coalition (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999) approaches to policy change). While this opens the possibility that museums can become of real political importance at some times, given the right combination of circumstances and political interest, it is also the case that for most of the time museums are decidedly the poor cousins in terms of any hierarchy of policy importance for most governments. Indeed, the previous discussion in chapter 3 of museums in Eastern Europe, China and Cuba supports this idea as museum importance for their governments depended upon their role in terms of state restructuring or significant societal change rather than it being dependent upon their own intrinsic role as museums. The contribution of museums in periods of major turmoil is always of a secondary form - instead of being in the vanguard of change and change mechanisms they are always in a position of minor players: never Hamlet, much more the gravedigger. Thus museums are not seen to be key actors in policy terms by most national political actors except in their role as contributors towards the larger and, as far as central political actors are concerned, more important political objectives that they have.

This conclusion raises, again, the relationship of the museums sector and individual museums to the national political environment within which museums operate. It also, however, raises the question of how museums and their staff react to this seemingly permanent position of political unimportance. The national politics of museums cannot be only understood by looking at them from the top down: their own actions need to be taken into account to balance this picture. Are museums as powerless as versions of instrumentalism may lead one to believe, or are they able to intervene at the national level in ways that extend far beyond the view of them as simple contributing cogs in policy machinery that is dominated by national political actors? The final section of this chapter answers these questions by examining the relationship between national policies and museum politics.

 
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