In an increasingly globalised world, what is the future for a national museum of British art? Tate holds the National Collection of British Art from 1500 until the present day. Tate Britain gives over much of its space to its display. Tate Britain was re-launched in 1999, with a re-hanging of the collection and the opening of the new Manton Entrance. The following year, to mark the new millennium, Tate Modern opened to great acclaim. While Tate Modern has been widely acclaimed for attracting large audiences and for pursuing a successful curatorial policy of internationalism in art, Tate Britainâ€™s position is less clear.
Public museums and galleries in Britain have, over the last decade, worked in line with government policies that stress the need to make public culture more socially inclusive. The argument has been that publicly funded culture shouldÂ attract as well as reflect the diversity ofÂ the British population. This policy perspective has been widely translated by the Museum and Gallery sector into the practice of targeting social, educational and community groups who are under â€“represented in audience and visitor figures.
Art and Distinction
According to the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu (1979), art appreciation and the social activity of attending art galleries is primarily the province of educated indigenous middle classes. In Bourdieu’s terms,Â art bestows social distinction. While more recent demographic evidence on art gallery attendance has modified Bourdieuâ€™s findings, his overall thesis retains its force. The change in the British government’s approach to cultural policy that accompanied the rise of the New Labour project can be seen against the background of Bourdieu’s work on culture and social distinction. For the last decade, Government policy has been trying to widen participation in the arts through the creation of more diverse audiences. Cultural diversity policy has been largely translated into the practice of targeting groups who are considered to be under-represented in visitor and audience profiles. At Tate Britain, specific departments, such as Gallery Education, have been asked to widen participation in the museum through their programmes with schools and community groups. Other parts of Tate Britain have been alloted the task of reflecting diverse cultures.Â Public programming has, for instance, responded to the need to open the museum up to broader audiences. Regardless of the area of expertise within the museum, however, a limited amount of attention has been paid to understanding barriers to access.
The Research Project Programme
The Tate Encounters project was set up to address some of the questions surrounding barriers to access, particularly in respect of people from non-British and mixed backgrounds. The emphasis in the project has been on empirical rather than theoretical approaches.Â The aim has been to produce an empirical study of the relationships between the National Collection of British Art, cultural diversity policy and different modes of spectactorship. The study is qualitative and the primary method of the study is the ethnographic interview. The practical fieldwork phase of the project started in April 2007 and is due to be completed in April 2009. The programme aims at a wide sharing of knowledge. The central outputs of the project are directed at a wide educational audience. The project has been funded for three years by the AHRC Diasporas, Migration and Identities Programme and is due to make a final report in the Spring of 2010.
The research aims to:
- increase knowledge and understanding of the ways in which specific British identities are contained and reproduced within the curatorial practices and collection of Tate.Â The project asked how such notions are received and valued by migrant and diasporic family members.
- to explore new intercultural readings of the collection, exhibition and displays. Such readings are generated by migrant families alongside artists, theorists as well as educators.
- to develop a major collaboration between the academy and the cultural industries. The project aimed to develop a project of national and international significance focused upon contemporary curatorial approaches, museumsÂ education and cultural diversity.
- to develop an interdisciplinary, practice-based approach to the study of contemporary visual practices and their relationship to questions of diasporas, migration as well as cultural identity.
- to contribute to new forms of participation in debates on cultural as well as educational policy in respect of art galleries and museums. This aim relates to the impact of diasporas, migration and identities on art consumption.
- Research in Process Programme.
- An Online Archive of the project, which is under construction and can be accessed from tatencounters.org
- An International museumâ€™s sector conference hosted by Tate Britain for academics, museum and arts professionals and educators focused upon â€˜Museums of the Futureâ€™ in the Autumn of 2009.
- Publications and Papers, including online [E]ditions.