It might seem odd that a journal dedicated to museum studies would select such an intense directive as the theme for its fourth edition. But this provocative phrase turns out to be quite generative and open to interpretation. Death to Museums may evoke spectres of torch-bearing mobs ransacking Greek temples. Or looters stealing antiquities in times of war like the fate that befell the National Museum of Iraq in 2003. Maybe it sounds like the rallying cry of conservative politicians and fundamentalist religious groups. Or maybe it is saying the idea of the museum as a cold, aloof, and stuffy mausoleum needs to come to an end. Perhaps museums are killing themselves through efforts to attract more visitors and compete with tourist destinations, popular culture, and recreational commerce.
It’s all of these things, and more.
“Death to Museums” is a call for disruption. It is a call to action and proclaims the need for change. This issue of Fwd: Museums asks: Do museums need to change to avoid their death? Do museums need to die in order to change? Are museums under attack? By whom and to what end?
“Death to Museums” is an alert that cultural institutions held in public trust are at risk and need protection. It is an acknowledgment that museums are active battlegrounds in our deepening cultural conflicts. It is a threat that things will be different from now on.