Museum Planner Gail Lord and Soft Power

Gail Lord is sparking a revolution with her sights set on museums and cities. In her recent webinar “Museums, Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy in a Changing World,” while acknowledging that some museums began as displays of the spoils of war and conquest, today’s museums have evolved to preserve and care for artifacts of artistic, cultural, historical or scientific importance (1). And because of their high level of professionalism, museums also play an important educational role in interpreting and exhibiting collections for their publics—which may account for the fact that museums are looked to by the general public as one of the few institutions of trustworthiness.

With an eye to the creative economy, Lord notes the trend of an urban uptick, with 54% of the population now in cities. Despite not being nation states, cities produce 80% of the world’s GDP and can exert substantial influence of soft power through shared persuasion and agenda setting.

Gail Lord sees museums, particularly small and mid-size museums, ideally positioned as “cultural diplomats of soft power”’ in their communities, as agents of “power diffusion” in a “shared economy” that thrives on collaborating and listening.

Lord’s call for soft power is echoed in the late Malcolm McIntosh’s 2015 book Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for a new Political Economy, a concept derived from the 2012 UN report that recognizes that “one individual is merely a part of a greater whole, part human, part Earthly, part cosmic” [pg.18] (2). For McIntosh an essential strand is to realize that a political economy of human flourishing will necessitate the “rise of feminization of decision-making and governance that fundamentally hinges on empathy, sociability, sharing and group work as much it does on competition, aggression and masculinity” [20] (3).

Contrary to current news headlines and the occasional authoritarian chest thumping, McIntosh is reassuring in pointing to evidence that the world has been getting more peaceful since 1945. What McIntosh identifies as one of the greatest practical and political challenges for immediate attention is the development of global citizenship allied to local living and changing the social systems and institutions that run our lives (ibid). Gail Lord can provide just the right resource.

In Cities, Museums, and Soft Power, Lord and co-editor Ngaire Blankenberg, both respected museum planners, have brought together fourteen of the world’s leading museum and cultural experts. These experts explore examples from six continents of the many facets of soft power in museums: how they amplify civic discourse, accelerate cultural change, and contribute to contextual intelligence among the great diversity of city dwellers, visitors and policy makers. The authors appeal to city governments to embrace museums, which so often are the signifiers of their cities, increasing real estate values while attracting investment, tourists and creative workers. The book also includes a tool for museums and cities, outlining 32 ways to institute and embrace soft power (2).

Gail Lord is a force to be reckoned with—as the saying goes, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

(1) July 25, 2018. ICOM International Committee for exhibit exchange (ICEE) Webinar Series is made possible in part by a grant from the International Council of Museum (ICOM)

(2) Lord Cultural Resources: Soft Power: https://www.lord.ca/resources/tools/topic/soft-power/1/14

(3) McIntosh, Malcolm. 2015. Thinking the Twenty­First Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy. Greenleaf Publishing.

https://www.lord.ca/cities-museums-and-soft-power-contributors

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