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Mark Fisher's book includes the best museums and galleries in Britain
Mark Fisher's book includes the best museums and galleries in Britain

Internal News - 31 May 2006

Lecture: Are ‘excellence’ and ‘elitism’ dirty words in museums?

Former Minister for the Arts, Mark Fisher, is to use the Holburne Museum’s collection to illustrate his controversial views about the future of museums as tourist destinations and social venues at a lecture tomorrow (7pm, Thursday 1 June 2006).

Mark Fisher is a powerful advocate for museums. He enthusiastically maintains that it is the value of the collection, history and the role of the curator which lie at the heart of the life of a museum and which are vital for its future.

He sees that in the rush towards widening participation, Government policy and lottery funding have reversed the important values. Whilst broadening participation in museum life is an admirable goal he believes it should not be achieved at the expense of the essence of what gives museums their value in the first place.

He asserts what is needed is to achieve the right balance of the object, its history and scholarship, and that in achieving this equilibrium the audience will be maintained and revived.

Mark Fisher will use the highlights of the Holburne’s collection to illustrate his argument that it is from this starting point that museums should begin to plan their futures.

As a child Mark Fisher was inspired by art when he was taken to visit museums by his father. On returning home the visits were enhanced by stories that his father read to him. He notes: “I have loved museums ever since, turning to them to be educated, and to learn; to be provoked and amused; for solace and stimulus. They have both been presiding preoccupation and occupation in my life.”

His book Britain’s Best Museums and Galleries celebrates and hopes to reassert what he sees as the three most important aspects of museums – the object, the past and scholarship itself.

He said: “I believe these 350 collections are the most interesting and enjoyable. Those I have chosen range from the splendours of the British Museum, encompassing the cultures of the world, to the charm of Flintham Museum, which encompasses the life of a single Nottinghamshire village shop.

“To do this I have visited museums from Orkney to Penzance, from the west coast of Fermanagh to the east coast of Suffolk. Together they form a portrait of Britain and its inhabitants. These collections provide the study for that portrait. Here is the evidence of what we value, what we have found and learned and made, what we consider beautiful or curious, what we love.”

Mark Fisher has been the Labour Member of Parliament for Stoke on Trent Central since 1983. He is a former Minister for the Arts and member of the Museums and Galleries Commission. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and of the Royal College of Arts.

Tickets cost £10 (Concessions £7.50 / Students £5), which includes a glass of wine on arrival, doors open 6.30pm) For more information and tickets call the Holburne on 01225 820820 or email