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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Museum of London: Clever or evil? You decide...

I came across this image on the internet recently of superstar du jour, Benedict Cumberbatch, posing next to a Paddington Bear statue dressed as Sherlock in the Museum of London. At first I didn't think much of it, and then my brain became rapidly muddled with the stunning amount of cross promotion encapsulated in these images. Cumberbatch, star of the BBC's immensely successful Sherlock, at the Museum of London where they are having their Sherlock Holmes exhibition - fair enough. But the museum also has a Paddington Bear exhibition, which funnily enough coincides with the release of a major motion picture just in time for Christmas. And now they have a Sherlock themed Paddington Bear? Is the Museum of London run by a production studio? Is this incredibly brilliant or incredibly evil?

First off, let's be clear- Benedict I really doubt you designed this paddington sculpture. That is just a bear holding a deer stalker. Everyone calm down. I know he's amazing, but clearly not a particularly original sculptor.

But isn't what's more concerning that the MoL's exhibition masterplan seems to based around popular tv and film programmes? On the one hand, I will admit that both of these franchises are based in London and so would fall within the museum's remit. Also, the MoL has always focused on engaging school children audiences, and these two exhibitions can hardly fail to please. But on the other- the museum has commissioned a new deerstalker hat to be on sale at Liberty- is this an educational institution or an incredibly clever business?

I would say without a doubt the MoL is clever- indeed all we seem to talk about at conferences these days is building our brands, making the most of our collections, increasing visitor figures and income. Check check check- the MoL is on that like, well, like the PR savvy place it is. In fact, I would think the museum would be a paragon of a clever heritage institution - if it still had any of its collections staff.

I don't personally have a problem with the PR and cross-promotional wizardry that the MoL is pulling off. What does bother me is that it seems to come at the expense of its curatorial staff, or just its staff more widely, as we all have seen in its well publicized redundancy plan. The exhibitions are easy to market, because they aren't developed from the collections they are developed to sell, carried out by external contractors. And the scary part is- it is working.

So every time we buy our Liberty/MoL hat or pose for photos with Paddington Bear- are we condoning the rise of museums run with exposure and profit in mind? Or are museums finally getting their fair share of attention from the media? I just don't know guys. For the moment I'll have to leave it that the Museum of London might be the most savvy institution out there, but whose success appears to come at a terrible price.

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