“Experiential/Collection: Contemporary Manchester Museum”

Association of Art Historians (UK) Annual Conference, 2012

“From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum” PANEL

Piotr Piotrowski and Kasia Murawska-Muthesius, Co-chairs

A revised and expanded version of this paper was published as the chapter titled “Towards embodied, agonistic museum practices: Contemporary Manchester, England.” In From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum: Theory and Practice, edited by Piotr Piotrowski and Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius, 179−192. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Jul 2015.

The Open University, Milton Keynes

Milton Keys, UK
March 28, 2012


Formerly the North West Federation of Museums and Art Galleries, NWFED is one of the 10 federations in the UK that exist “to support all people working in, or with a professional interest in, museums, art galleries and heritage organisations in the North West and Isle of Man” according to the organization’s website. Under the leadership of the intrepid Piotr Bienkowski, NWFED has also become a think tank of sorts producing quasi-manifestos, such as “Rethinking the Museum.” The latter notes that by 2030, most museums “we know and love today” will be distant memories, and that the museum as a collection should shift to one as “experiential.”

This paper considers the manner in which Bienkowski—the then deputy director and acting director of Manchester Museum, England—began to implement innovative programs and forge partnerships with nontraditional groups that would inevitably (if implicitly) feed into the aforementioned think piece. For instance, he was integral in bringing in the activist work of a queer-identified South Asian woman into the museum in 2006 and 2007 and inaugurating a program in which the “experiences” and interactions of museumgoers with objects would not only be posted on online platforms like YouTube but also be archived as part and parcel of the object. In the end, I consider “Rethinking Museum” in the context of Stuart Hall’s “Post-Museum” to argue for the strong possibility for a universal historical museum such as Manchester Museum to function as a critical museum.