Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG)

About RCMG

Deaf men dancing

Research Focus

Our research engages with and responds to real world contexts. We understand museums, galleries and heritage as part of – and active in shaping - the contemporary world.

We do research with cultural organisations that:

  • Stimulates values-led change and supports experimental practice.
  • Fosters cultural organisations’ active engagement in changing social, political and environmental arenas.
  • Explores how museums can inform and enrich audience attitudes and public debate, stimulating, ethically-framing and hosting conversations around contemporary societal concerns.
  • Explores how museums can meaningfully and ethically engage diverse and ever-changing communities and audiences.
  • Examines and interrogates the impact and value of culture and cultural participation.

(Image credit: Sarah Lee)

Approach and Values

Our research combines academic rigour and a commitment to socially-engaged thinking and practice.

Collaboration is central to our research practice. We work with and bring together organisations and expertise within and beyond the cultural field.

We challenge hierarchical ways of working that are deeply embedded in museum thinking and practice. Our research creates spaces within which different forms of expertise come together and where researchers, practitioners, policy makers, artists and activists collaborate. We give value to forms of expertise derived from lived experience alongside curatorial and academic specialisms.

We foster unbounded ways of researching, unconstrained by entrenched professional and academic boundaries.

We value creative experimentation that generates insights that can, in turn, open up new possibilities for museums and their role in society.

We are international in outlook, values, dialogue and exchange.

All RCMG research reports and publications are available to download for free.

For further information please contact Co-Directors Suzanne MacLeodRichard Sandell or Senior Research Associate Sarah Plumb.

About RCMG

Our values-led research is built around a number of interlinked themes:

Radical Transformation

RCMG has been commissioned by, and partnered with, cultural organisations to help them harness research innovation to drive radical transformation in their working practices, their relationships with communities and to take up a more inclusive role in relation to pressing contemporary social, political and environmental issues. This work supports radical change, not for the sake of change, but because of our belief that cultural organisations have huge potential to enrich people’s lives and make real world differences. 

Bringing together spatial and social understandings of the museum, learning from leading-edge and ethically-rooted thinking and practice and inspiring global examples of transformational change that transcend the limits of existing museum structures and practices, RCMG enables risk taking and innovation for the wider UK and international cultural sector.

Human Rights

The work of RCMG has not only profoundly impacted the thinking and practices of the cultural sector but has also had significant positive benefits for museum visitors; communities at risk of prejudice, discrimination and hate crime; and society more broadly. The Centre’s research has revealed the ways in which museums not only influence visitors, but more fundamentally inform the conversations society has about difference, fairness and equality. A range of studies carried out by RCMG in museums, galleries and heritage sites in the UK and internationally have shown how museums are active in creating the conditions within which human rights are experienced – fought for and claimed, realised and refused – in the everyday.

Queer/LGBTQIA+ equality

Over the last ten years, RCMG has developed research that has encouraged and enabled institutions to uncover and explore previously suppressed or marginalised histories of same-sex love and desire and gender diversity. The Queer Heritage and Collections Network, of which RCMG is a founding member alongside the National Trust, English Heritage, Historic England and Historic Royal Palaces, was awarded Best Partnership 2021 by the Museums + Heritage Awards.

Anti-racism

RCMG is addressing the urgent need for museums and galleries to actively challenge systemic racism and ongoing coloniality in order to become spaces that are designed with and for a wider range of people. Our research identifies and disrupts the ongoing production of racial ideas, embedded fears, and other barriers to inclusivity, supporting institutions to embark on cultural change.

Reframing Difference and Disability

Over two decades, RCMG has conducted a suite of collaborative research projects that have built on and extended insights and innovation around societal attitudes towards disability and difference. The lives of disabled people – sometimes referred to as the world’s largest minority – remain underrepresented, sometimes entirely invisible, within most museums. Where they do appear, they are often portrayed in ways that reflect deeply held negative attitudes towards physical and mental difference; that are out of step with 21st century approaches to disability rights, equality and respect. 

With a range of museum partners, RCMG has stimulated public and professional debate around the implications of a society that values some lives more than others. This incremental and enduring approach to research has significantly advanced and shaped museum practice internationally. The contribution of our research was recognised through an Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture in 2014. 

Culture, Health and Social Care

Two people looking through a microscope

RCMG’s collaborative work with museums, galleries and heritage sites have demonstrated the capacity for cultural organisations to contribute towards more equitable, fair and inclusive societies, alongside revealing their immense potential as spaces of social care.

Avoiding a medical and deficit model, so often associated with health and wellbeing agendas, RCMG’s research reveals the unique creative roles museums can play, whatever their size and capacity, to positively impact issues and agendas beyond the cultural sector by gathering robust evidence of the impact of projects, and focusing on user groups and participants.

Socially Engaged Organisations

RCMG has powerfully shaped the way we understand the social roles, potentials and responsibilities of museums, galleries and heritage sites. Through a trajectory of interlinked, experimental and collaborative research projects — ‘thinking with’ international, national and regional cultural organisations — the Centre has generated new insights and concepts, methodologies and practices, that have enabled museums to re-focus their aims and ambitions in relation to social needs, concerns and challenges.

Research has revealed an in-depth understanding of what it means for museums to be socially engaged, proactive, relevant and useful organisations that have meaning and resonance for individuals and communities. This work has had a profound impact upon professional practice and policy in the UK and internationally enabling cultural organisations, large and small, to become dynamic, ethical and inclusive and to play a central role in the social, cultural and civic life of their communities.

Museum Learning and Engagement

Man speaking to children in gallery

Since its inception in 1999, RCMG has built a worldwide reputation for ground breaking research and impact in the area of museum learning and visitor engagement. This substantive body of work responded to the growing need for research within the museum, cultural heritage and arts sector around the relationship between museums, galleries and their audiences. RCMG’s work, including the Generic Learning Outcomes (GLOs), revolutionised the way in which visitors’ experiences could be understood by providing practitioners, government and funders with a meaningful way to describe and evidence the impact of engagement with museums on visitors and to report on these collectively.

History of RCMG

Since the Centre was first established in 1999 by Professor Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, we have carried out collaborative and distinctively values-led research that is world-leading; both in terms of its contribution to the burgeoning field of museum studies and its profound and lasting impact on wide-ranging cultural organisations and their beneficiaries. Today, we are working with museums and heritage bodies of all kinds to dismantle the barriers to access that can exclude and restrict audiences. We use research to foster experimental, ethical approaches to engaging with and impacting upon pressing contemporary social issues.

RCMG was created in response to an influential report, commissioned by the Department for National Heritage in 1997, which called for the establishment of a centre of excellence to support learning and engagement in museums. Being established with this purpose and ambition in mind has ensured that positive social impact is not a by-product but rather a driving force for the Centre’s work. Professor Jocelyn Dodd joined the RCMG team in 2000, and became Director in 2006 making a significant contribution to RCMG’s work on social impact. In 2002, Dr Ceri Jones became a member of the team, supporting the piloting of the Generic Learning Outcomes. All of our projects are designed in order to equip cultural organisations to enhance their benefit to society, to diverse audiences and to communities that have traditionally had fewer opportunities to participate in and benefit from culture.

The Centre’s position within the School of Museum Studies enables us to draw upon and, in turn, to contribute to cutting-edge conceptual research that underpins and feeds directly into the School’s postgraduate training and research programmes, including Socially Engaged Practice in Museums and Galleries MA, and its professional development activities. In the 2014 Research Excellent Framework (REF), the Centre’s work formed the basis for both of the School’s impact case studies, which were both rated 100% 4*. In the 2008 UK wide Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) RCMG was at the heart of the submission, which found that the School of Museum Studies was home to the highest proportion of world leading research in any discipline in any UK University.

We work with a range of organisations including museums, galleries, libraries, archives, and botanic gardens. Research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council; European Union; Wellcome Trust; Arts Council England; Heritage Lottery Fund; National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts; individual national and regional museums; government departments and strategic bodies.

RCMG at 20

2019 marked the 20th anniversary of RCMG. We celebrated the ground breaking research and impact of RCMG through a series of events and talks. For forthcoming events please visit the current research and events page. You can also browse our past events.

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