The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec is the oldest of our state museums. It had been in the making since 1922 and opened its doors in 1933, in the middle of an economic crisis. It was also in a difficult context that its identity, collections and outreach initiatives gradually took shape under the aegis of directors whose backgrounds were as different as they were complementary. Among them, the visionary and resilient Paul Rainville (1887-1952) stands out. An inspiring personality, he was the model for transparent management, accountability and concern for serving the community well. He left a varied and lasting imprint on a national institution which, until 1963, was known as the “Musée de la Province de Québec.” If Rainville had lived in our time, he would no doubt have known how to cope with our governance regulations and find innovative ways to overcome the obstacles confronting our museal institutions both large and small.
Since the 2000s, the museal sector has had to face the combined challenges of sustainabilty, a fresh range of management tools coming from “new management,” and the digital revolution. While there was no real organizational disruption, several strategic behavioral patterns were observed. In fact, this changing environment brought about a progressive implementation of new tools and practises within cultural organizations. It seems important today to reevalute these organizations’ management strategies, particularly in the context of increasing globalization. First of all, there must be an awareness of research in this field to allow for the proposal of a theoretical framework that can provide the elements of comprehension of the functioning of today’s museal organizations. Analysis of the three examples of integrating a policy of sustainable development will then lead to a concrete illustration of the challenges to be met in order to conclude which contemporary issues museal management must meet today and in the future.
The analysis of specific norms of museum governance in their entirety involves looking at hard law, which is secularly defined and strictly framed as state law. It also involves other rules or informal law, qualified as soft law or informal law, which bind the parties who adhere to them. This approach is adopted in this paper to first analyze international conventions, recommendations and declarations emanating from UNESCO, while also taking into consideration the rules qualified as soft law enacted by ICOM. Next, it examines the laws and regulations emanating from Canadian and Quebec legislators juxtaposed with the rules set out by the Canadian Museums Association and the Société des musées du Québec.
UNESCO intervened on several occasions through conventions, which directly or indirectly affect museums, such as the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of 2003, or the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression. Over the years, Several UNESCO recommendations have also been addressed to museums. In 2015, the General Conference of UNESCO adopted a Recommendation on the protection and promotion of museums and collections. This recommendation was born of a desire to replace and extend the application of existing standards and principles in international instruments, related to the museum’s position, as well as its role and responsibilities. To this international law is juxtaposed, as a flexible law, the standards enacted by ICOM. This has over the years, set out many standards and guidelines developed by the experts of the international committees. Museums or individuals who adhere to it indeed agree to submit to its rules. In Canada, the Museums Act only applies to the nine national museums (Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada Museum of History, Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Canadian Museum of Nature, National Gallery of Canada). However, laws and regulations also generally apply to all cultural institutions, the Copyright Act and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act among others. Quebec has, like all of Canada’s provinces, a specific law on museums which deals, as its federal counterpart, only with national museums. Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts is interestingly governed by its own law, but what about the other 400 museums of Quebec? Here the Corbo Report, Entre mémoire et devenir, finds all its importance. In Quebec, the absence rather than the multitude of laws – hard law – can be questioned, though flexible norms appear very interesting. Pertaining to this topic, the Société des Musées du Québec [Quebec’s Museum Society] published in 2015 La gouvernance muséale, guide à l’intention des directions et des conseils d’administration. This guide describes what constitutes governance in the museum’s environment, it addresses the roles and responsibilities of museum administrators as well as their accountability and sets out a series of best practices in museum governance.
It could therefore be said that a continuum exists at an international and national degree, between state norms, hard law and soft law norms, and as a range of graduated normativity, these constitute the outline of museum governance laws.
On December 9, 2016, Luc Fortin, Minister of Culture and Communications, announced the adoption of Bill 114, whose goal is to “modernize the governance structure of Quebec’s national museums.” Thirty-three years after the passage of the National Museums Act establishing the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ), the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) and the Musée de la civilisation (MCQ) as national museums, the adoption of Bill 114 is an ideal time to examine the concept of governance in the museal context, as well as potential consequences for Quebec museology.
While the question of governance has often been raised over the past few years in the field of both public and private administration in Quebec, its application in the domain of museology has long been delayed. Developed structurally and conceptually in the vast majority of the province’s museal network, which is to say that it refers, first and foremost, to a structure of functioning and a management mode, the notion of governance nonetheless generates even more questions about the articulation and comprehension of these principles in regards to their application. In particular, think of the regulations governing the composition of boards of directors, of the criteria for independence which members must observe, of the desired skills profiles, as well as the distribution of roles among the general management and the board of directors.
This summary of a directed study submitted in August 2017, seeks to return to the major analyses that have answered this question: after the bill was passed, what organizational dynamics were observed within the MNBAQ, MAC and MCQ?
Organizational structure and governance modes are linked to the definition and orientations of a cultural project. Mintzberg’s studies have shown the required compatibility between the choice of a structural model and the project’s objectives. From the law creating Quebec’s national museums to the delegation to private enterprise of the cultural management of some of these cultural establishments, we can see the impact of an organizational approach on the museum’s mission.
Musems have become more complex. New professions and new specialties have allowed museal institutions to enrich their offering but also to reach different publics. The challenge remains to foster the development of these new skills while also ensuring that a common vision of the cultural project is shared. It is therefore a question of sharing responsibilities, communications, evaluation, consultation and decision-making.
The museum does not operate in a vacuum. While it must develop affiliations and partnerships with its social, educational, cultural and environmental settings, it must also expend tremendous energy on its relationship with the economic sphere. The question of financing and the museal institution’s economic and structural impact remains at the forefront.
A museum is an organiztion. With a project. With a team. With partners and within an environment. The museum’s direction must answer the question.
Près de 400 institutions muséales existent au Québec : centres d’exposition, lieux d’interprétation et musées de toute nature conservent et valorisent des patrimoines matériels et immatériels, font réfléchir sur des enjeux de société, jouent un rôle indéniable dans leur communauté, misent sur des expériences multiples pour faire vivre émotion et réflexion… Cette grande diversité de l’écosystème muséal inspire et guide la Société des musées du Québec (SMQ), organisme national qui rassemble à la fois les institutions muséales et les professionnels de la muséologie sur l’ensemble du territoire. Engagement, équité, éthique, collaboration et excellence constituent les valeurs qui sous-tendent l’ensemble de ses actions.