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Are the Elgin Marbles really “yesterday’s question”?

Neil MacGregor talks about the digital future of museums & tries to suggest that the issue of the Elgin Marbles is “yesterday’s question”. This seems more like wishful thinking on his part however, as it is very much a current issue – particularly with the opening of the New Acropolis Museum. Furthermore, if he believes that the future of museums is digital, then why doesn’t the British Museum return the Elgin Marbles & keep a digital copy for themselves so that they can be taken care of by people who still see the value in the physical as well as the virtual.

The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles have also published a response to this article.

Guardian [1]

Museums’ future lies on the internet, say Serota and MacGregor
Museum chiefs paint multimedia future for institutions
Wednesday, 08 July 2009

Two titans of the British museum world, Sir Nicholas Serota and Neil MacGregor, last night sketched out their visions for the museum of the future.

Both said that the relationship between institutions and their audiences would be transformed by the internet. Museums, they said, would become more like multimedia organisations.

“The future has to be, without question, the museum as a publisher and broadcaster,” said MacGregor, director of the British Museum.

Serota, director of the Tate, said: “The challenge is, to what extent do we remain authors, and in what sense do we become publishers providing a platform for international conversations?

“I am certain that in the next 10 to 15 years, there will be a limited number of people working in galleries, and more effectively working as commissioning editors working on material online.”

The duo were speaking at an event at the London School of Economics in celebration of 60 years of the publisher Thames & Hudson.

Serota added: “In the past, there has been an imperfect communication between visitors and curators. The possibility for a greater level of communication between curators and visitors is the challenge now.

“There will be a big shaking-out – a discrepancy will arise between those institutions that grasp these opportunities and those that do not.”

Speaking about the ongoing controversy about the so-called Elgin Marbles, which has been refired by the opening last month of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, MacGregor said that the question of the sculptures’ return to Greece was “yesterday’s question. The real question is about how the Greek and British governments can work together so that the sculptures can be seen in China and Africa.

“But the Greek government has a clear position that their removal [from the Parthenon] was illegal and therefore this conversation cannot happen, which is a matter of great sadness.”

An ongoing revolution in the ability to transport museum objects safely around the world would also be key, he said. “Physical transportation is just as important as the internet.”

PR Newswire [2]

Bright ‘Internet Future’ for Museums Could be Impeded by Lack of Progress Over Parthenon Marbles
LONDON, July 9 /PRNewswire/

The prospect of a technologically-driven future for museums, outlined this week by British Museum director Neil MacGregor and Tate director Nicholas Serota, could be impaired unless the issue of the Parthenon Marbles is satisfactorily resolved, says the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (http://www.parthenonuk.com and twitter BCRPM).

Neil MacGregor’s ‘real question … how the Greek and British governments can work together so that the Parthenon sculptures can be seen in China and Africa’, is quite impossible to settle without reuniting the sculptures where they belong.

“Let us have a sensible negotiation on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures, between equals, without any prior stipulations about ownership and possession. Only then can the possibilities for the transmission of the sculptures to other countries, whether physical or virtual, be seriously discussed,” commented Professor Anthony Snodgrass, Chairman for the BCRPM.

Contrary to Neil MacGregor’s comment to guests at the event at the London School of Economics, that the Parthenon Marbles issue was “yesterday’s question”, a Guardian poll last week revealed that 94% of respondents wished to see the Marbles returned to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

“The Parthenon Marbles issue is very much today’s question and will continue to be so until the British Museum agrees to enter into a constructive dialogue with the Greeks without constraining prior conditions,” adds Dr Tom Flynn, Head of Communications for the BCRPM.

Distributed by PR Newswire on behalf of The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles