Museum Translation Services: Promoting Accessibility, Inclusion, and Equality

Museums inhabit a unique cultural space, one that provides them both the opportunity and the responsibility to educate, celebrate, and commemorate humanity. From arts and the humanities to history, science, and beyond, museum spaces are integral to preserving and presenting knowledge to others. This rightly makes audience engagement a priority for museums everywhere; the measure of a museum’s success can be measured by the number of people that regularly flow through its virtual or physical doors.


online museum translation








Yet as populations become more multicultural, museums are facing an increasing number of patrons that encounter language barriers because of monolingual exhibits and staff. This is why the emergent trend in providing translation services in museum settings has been on the rise. In a world where museum curators are duty-bound to ensure as many people as possible enjoy the opportunities their museums represent, offering multilingual support promotes accessibility, inclusion, and equality.

The Impetus Behind the Move to Multilingual Museum Spaces

Put simply, restricting the ability for whole demographics to benefit from museum spaces by limiting exhibits, signage, and staff to a single language is antithetical to the mission of museum engagement. Museums require engagement, and that engagement is most plentiful when exhibit spaces are accessible and inclusive in as many ways as possible. It’s only through accessibility and inclusivity that true equality in education emerges.

Museums have a responsibility to all their patrons, not just the ones who can understand the language of the majority. In the United States alone, research shows that the number of Spanish-speaking residents is roughly 53 million people, only around 11.6 million of which are multilingual. Not having translation services available to these remaining effectively shuts them out of museum spaces in the United States. This, of course, is not equality.

museum translation cultural diversity accessibility


Cost and Effectiveness of Museum Translation Methods

Transforming museum spaces into those that are welcoming for non-native English speakers can be done in a myriad of ways. At a bare minimum, exhibit labels can be made available to multicultural patrons by having them translated into their native languages and displayed proudly alongside the English exhibit label. Other signage throughout the museum can likewise be presented in a multilingual format, making it easy for patrons to physically navigate museum spaces more easily.

More advanced accessibility and inclusion methods for museums can include more than just the written word. Hiring multilingual docents to lead tours and answer questions provides the same level of service to patrons who don’t speak English as those who do. Where funding limitations preclude the hiring of multilingual staff, self-guided audio tours available in more than one language are a viable alternative that can be a cost-effective solution that promotes equal access to museum resources.

Translating, language interpreter and communication

A Symbiotic Relationship

The relationship between patrons and museums is truly a symbiotic one. A museum needs patrons in order to survive and thrive, and patrons benefit greatly from time spent in museum spaces. Museums need to promote this relationship by providing better access to all potential patrons, and that means using inclusive means such as translation services to ensure every individual who walks through their doors has the same opportunities, regardless of language barriers.

This time last year… Report from ICOM’s 25th General Conference in Kyoto

This time last year, I was returning from ICOM’s General Conference in Kyoto, with fresh ideas, inspiration and knowledge about the present and future of museums. Below you will find a report, for those of you who missed it. Summarising an intense week of talks, debates, workshops and visits was a tall order but I hope you will gain some valuable insight into the conference.


The 25th General Conference was held at the Kyoto International Conference Centre (ICC Kyoto) and various cultural institutions around the city.

It was the third ICOM conference to be held in Asia and the first ever to be held in Japan.

The host city, Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, perfectly embodies the theme as an example of tradition and a rich cultural heritage (it counts over 1,600 temples) integrating with modernity and innovation.

The theme of the conference was “Museums as Cultural Hubs; the Future of Tradition”.

It was tackled through 4 plenary sessions on the topics: “Curating Sustainable Futures’; ‘The Museum Definition: the Backbone of ICOM’, “Museums in Times of Disaster” and “Asian Art Museums & Collections around the World” through workshops, panel discussions, committee meetings and board elections, networking events and cultural activities.

japan ICOM









In the increasingly complex society we live in, museums find themselves facing new challenges and taking on new social roles going beyond the traditional roles of preserving, collecting, research and communication.

The three keynote speakers were world-renowned intellectuals in the museum field: Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado and Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang. They all offered a different insight into their international museum work and how they see the future of museums.

The conference also featured entertainment in the form of traditional dance and Noh theatre performances, showcasing Kyoto’s intangible cultural assets. For delegates like myself, visiting Japan for the first time, it was a wonderful way of experiencing Kyoto’s culture first-hand.

Overall, the ICOM General Conference provided an invaluable opportunity to connect with museum professionals from all around the world, share ideas and learn more about their ways of moving into the future as contemporary cultural institutions.

In the words of the ICOM President Suay Aksoy, the conference “can be the hub where creativity combines with knowledge and intercultural dialogue enhances mutual understanding and peace building”.

Origins of the Conference Theme

ICOM was established in 1946, one year after the end of WW2 with the wish and desire to reconnect the world through cultural understanding. Today we face another complex crisis and museums offer the opportunity to raise cultural awareness. What can museums do in the face of a global environmental crisis?

How can they protect culture from being diluted in face of globalisation?

The only way is for museums to gather their wisdom and join forces in creating an environment with no space or border limits.

Conference Theme

The General Conference was a forum where museums could debate how museums might fulfil new expectations, increase cooperation and partnerships on matters of international interest.

In a global context of climate change, poverty, conflict, natural disasters, human rights issues, museums are urged to consider how they can contribute to a sustainable future.

Each museum will have a distinctive focus – art, history, science, literature- and will vary in scale and history, but in order to become relevant and resilient institutions, museums need to work together, through regional, national and international networks,

These efforts make them effective ‘cultural hubs’.

For a ‘future of tradition’ to take place, institutions need to be “a living, breathing entity, a bridge between past and future.” (ICOM President Aksoy)

Japan sees museums as part of its growth strategy and wishes to enhance museum functions. Next year Japan will hold the Olympic Games and is also preparing a major event, Japan Cultural Expo; many events will be held in museums as cultural hubs.


Noh mask

In a thought-provoking round table, speakers tackled the issue of museums and decolonisation.

Heritage is not innocent or neutral. How can museums continue to serve, considering the issues of justice and inclusivity?

French President Macron defined colonialism as a crime against humanity and stated that African children have every right to enjoy their artefacts in their own home country.

What needs to be dismantled is the language of colonisation.

Shoe Kessi from the University of Cape Town showed an example from her town, of how statues can make political statements when displayed in public spaces and how collective contestation can lead to a decolonial aesthetic (“Rhodes must fall” was a protest movement initiated by the University against the statue of Cecil Rhodes) .







Museums are powerful storytellers – the stories we tell, the objects we select and the meaning we give them become part of our identity and culture. The trend towards inclusive practices is clear and the aspiration to be inclusive is strong.

During the ICEE panel discussion on international relations and cultural diplomacy, Dr Christian Greco, director of the Egyptian Museum in Turin, shared the story about the protest received from Giorgia Meloni, a far-right politician, following his initiative to favour inclusion and send a welcoming message to the Arabic speaking community.

‘Fortunato chi parla arabo’ (‘Lucky who speak Arabic’) was a social campaign launched by the museum and aimed at drawing visitors from Egypt and other Arabic-speaking countries.

The 2×1 discount offered to Arabic speakers was seen as “discriminating against Italians”.

The video where he is seen confronting the politician went viral.


Photo credit: Alessandro Cristiano
Photo credit: Alessandro Cristiano






Relevance is the key to survival. Storycafe Museum in Rotterdam or the Migration Museum in Adelaide offer inspiring examples of inclusivity.

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma shared his vision of relevant and resilient museums as spaces for communication and to reinforce ties with the local community, as well as spaces for education and tactile learning.

He advocates for museums to play a role in the local economy, working with local craftsmen and locally available materials to boost the economy.

“In the 20th century, museums were boxes of concrete; they were closed buildings that drove out the local community. Now they have to be open to the public. This is how I came up with the Age of Forest – museums should be open, welcoming, with a good atmosphere like a forest.”, Kuma said.

He showed examples of his international work: Hiroshige Museum, where Van Gogh’s painting inspired by the woodblock artist is also on display to promote cultural dialogue; Yusuhara Wood Bridge Museum, built on the roof of a bridge; Santori Museum where he worked with local ceramic artists on the façade of the museum; Nexu Museum where the bamboo tearooms act as community spaces; the new Tokyo Olympic Stadium built with cedar from different regions of Japan to show Japanese diversity; V&A Dundee which mimics the cliff of Dundee whose oak foyer offers a welcoming ‘living room’ atmosphere and is used young people as a co-working space.


Curating Sustainable Futures through Museums

“Museums need to reduce negative impact and increase the positive one; trying to do more good and less harm.”

Henry McGhie, founder of Curating Tomorrow


The purpose of the plenary session was to see how we can create a sustainable future through museums.

Some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relate clearly to museums and will benefit all of us. Goals were agreed on by world governments in 2015 for people and planet’s prosperity, addressing the greatest challenges: hunger, degradation of nature, poverty, inequality between countries and climate change.

These goals are relevant to all museums, apply to all countries and are sensitive to local circumstances and challenges: they have been sent out to all sectors to achieve a future where people and nature flourish together. Some goals relate very clearly to museums and if they believe they can make a difference, they cannot ignore this call. There are 17 SDGs and 179 targets to support them.

Henry McGhie suggests applying a framework to connect with the SDGs goals through 7 activities that can be implemented by all museums:

1) To protect and safeguard natural heritage (objects in their collections and intangible cultural heritage)

2) To support and provide learning opportunities. Learning is not just about information: people need to care about the problems and be empowered to look for solutions

3) To enable cultural participation for all. Culture is a human right and everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community

4) To support sustainable tourism that can have positive  social, economic and environmental benefits and works to reduce any negative impact of tourism

5) To enable research in support of SDGs – collections are research resources that need to be cared for and developed for the long term

6) To direct our internal leadership / management / operations to support SDGs – this means to enhance our positive impact supporting staff, using energy wisely, running ethical institutions

7) To direct external leaderships, collaborations and partnerships to support SDGs – partnerships are crucial to achieve any goals

If museums work to support these 7 activities, that is how we will be able to create a sustainable future together.

Dr Mohri, CEO of Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, illustrated the concept of interconnectedness, Tsunagari.

By examining the Tsunagari (connections) among various life forms on Earth as an ecosystem, developed through 4.6 billion years of history, we can attempt to position the existence of human beings within the framework of Tsuganari.








 Museums in times of disaster

 At times when we witness increased damage to cultural heritage, it is essential to have a forum to discuss challenges that museums face. Therefore we were well placed in Japan, famous for its technological advances in disaster risk reduction.

The Disaster Risk Management Committee has turned into the International Committee for Disaster Resilient Museums. ICOM was founded in the aftermath of World War II for the protection of cultural property, so it is within its original mandate.

Following the Irma and Maria hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, Museo Ponce had to deal with the issues of generators to keep paintings protected.

In the aftermath of such a devastating event, the museum managed to rise as an institution for its community.

“We may lose power but not joy”

Museo Ponce


Museo de arte de Ponce
Museo de arte de Ponce






Heritage institutions and museums are often not connected with the disaster risk management services. ICCROM joined UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and launched the flagship programme First Aid and Resilience (FAR) in order to standardise response.

There is an expanding network of around 500 professionals in 78 countries dedicated to risk management (#culturecannotwait).

Museums need to standardise their operations and coordination with relief agencies before this can happen. They need to speak the same languages as emergency crisis and civil protection units.

Following the Earthquake and Tsunami that ravaged Japan in 2011, Japan developed further links with ICOM and UNESCO. World Tsunami Awareness Day was set up on 5th November, in collaboration with UNDRR (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) and the World Tsunami Museum Conference was organised, aimed at strengthening cooperation among museums, as centres of education for disaster prevention.


World Tsunami Awareness Day
World Tsunami Awareness Day






In 2019, the Sendai Seven Campaign will be promoted, which focuses on reducing disaster damage. Investing in infrastructure, early warning systems and education are critical to protect assets against tsunamis.

The fire that ravaged the Brazil’s National Museum one year ago was caused by an electrical failure of air conditioning and spread quickly because the building had no equipment to contain it.

In June 2019, a seminar was held on fire risk management for cultural heritage entitled “Heritage on Fire: who is next?”

Prof. Kellner, the director of Brazil’s National Museum, launched an appeal as the cultural diversity section of the new museum won’t be possible without international cooperation. China has already offered to give some artefacts.







Plans for the new museum include a new education centre for children and for temporary exhibitions and a refurbishment in four stages. The tragic fire that ravaged the museum was seen by the Director as an opportunity to rethink and update the museum.

“We may have lost part of the collection but we have not lost our ability to create science”, he said.

The museum launched the #museunacionalvive project and received funding from UNESCO and Brazilian government.

Sebastiao Salgado undertook a photographic journey of the Amazon forest in Brazil and shared with us a visually stunning, evocative and moving presentation.  He documented the daily lives of an indigenous tribe living in harmony with the Amazon. The impact of his iconic black and white photographs was enhanced by the Bachianas Brasileiras, a series of suites composed by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Salgado describes the tribe members as “extremely gentle and pacific people, not aggressive at all, that only eat cold-blooded animals (turtles and fish)”.

Through deforestation between 1988 and 2016, we already lost 20% of the Amazon forest. The forest currently has a surface of 4,196,943 km2 (12 times the size of Japan), it provides 25% of the oxygen of the planet and a third of its sweet water.

©Sebastião Salgado
©Sebastião Salgado






130 languages are spoken here and there are roughly one hundred groups that have never had any contact with the outside world.

Salgado’s aerial pictures show the dramatic changes in the forest caused by deforestation and fires.

He launched a passionate appeal to museums urging them to put political pressure on the Brazilian government for the protection of the Amazon forest.



“If we don’t act now, we ignore environmental and ecological disasters at our peril.”

Sebastiao Salgado


Museum Definition


“Museums are not temples but should be civic spaces

where cultural dialogue is encouraged.” Richard West Jr


Popular perception is that museums sit apart from the societies they serve but they can be much more than that in the 21st Century.

They offer multiple possibilities, which are in the very nature of a public institution – a gathering place for debate, a “safe place for unsafe ideas” as Richard West Jr suggested.

This should be their intellectual and epistemological aspiration.

During the Conference, it was decided to postpone the vote meant to settle what ICOM defined as a “profound healthy debate” around the new definition.

Complaints and concerns regarding the accuracy and quality of French and Spanish translations of the definition were raised by members of various national committees.  Some of the word choices were seen as too literal, ambiguous or wrong.

A new working group was set up within ICOM UK to take forward engagement around the new definition and the debate remains open.

As a linguist, I found the discussions around the new museum definition (and its subsequent translations) fascinating as the power of words is openly acknowledged. The debate presents us with the opportunity to rethink the wording we use to describe the mission and vision statement of museums.

It offers a valuable opportunity to reflect on the importance of words in our museums and cultural institutions and the sensitivity of communication across different cultures.

For the past few decades, ICOM has made only minor adjustments to its current statement defining the museum as “a non-profit institution” that “acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”[1]

Over the past few years, there has been a heightened sensitivity about the language used in the museum field, especially around decolonisation.

In the Netherlands, the term Golden Age when referring to ‘17th Century’ as the pinnacle of military and trading power is currently being challenged. The Amsterdam Museum has decided to ban the term Golden Age from its exhibits.

As Tom van der Molen, a curator of the museum, says: “Positive associations with the terms such as prosperity, peace, opulence and innocence do not cover the charge of historical reality of this period. The term ignores the many negative sides of the 17th Century such as poverty, war, forced labour and human trafficking”.[2]

Less than one year ago, the Department of Education and Public Programs at Portland Art Museum changed its name to ‘Learning and Community Partnerships’ in order to ‘more accurately reflect its core values and goals’. By switching from Education to Learning, the museum seeks to foster a ‘more open, inclusive and active process that everyone and anyone can be involved in’.

(…) The word Community helps us think more deeply about the role the Museum plays in bringing people together, creating a sense of belonging, and building connections with new audiences. Finally, the word Partnerships draws attention to the important work of building and sustaining relationships in everything we do.”

What is a museum?

The ICOM President Suay Aksoy shared her view of the role of museums in our changing society. Museums are becoming “more interactive, inclusive, visitor-oriented, accountable, flexible and mobile in order to stay relevant while pursuing their primary mission of collecting, preservation, communication, learning and research”. Museums have transformed their practices to better serve their communities. As museums are growing into their roles as cultural hubs, they are finding new ways to provide meaning for future generations and relevance to current ones.

The definition debate forces us to question the ethical values that define the very nature of our work as museum professionals.

ICOM is changing, as museums and society are changing. The latest UN report on Sustainable Development (2018) warns us on two issues, climate change and increasing inequality among countries, which are undermining progress on sustainable development.

Revisiting our core values and professional standards is part of ICOM’s efforts to address these issues.

It will be our generation of museums professionals to transmit these core values to the future generation.


ICEE – Building resilience and reinforcing relevance in exhibition exchange

University lecturer and art historian Dr Susan Douglas shared her insight into young visitors and generation Z (born between 1995 and 2010). She is inspired by how museums participate in the creation of shared heritage and the role that museums play in a participatory culture.

Social media and the digitisation of artefacts affect not only the character of cultural activity but the legacy that we pass to future generations.

Her concern is the cross-generational transfer of knowledge and the relationship of younger audiences, their cognitive, emotional and ethical landscapes. The presentation is part of an on-going research project.

How is the market for museums doing?

In 2012, only 18% of 18 to 24 year olds visited a museum. This number is reportedly decreasing. The average museum visitor is trending older. It is not however a matter of culture;

“they like culture and art; they pin it, share it, take it to Instagram and revisit it. They just don’t think museums are appropriate for them.”, Dr Douglas said.

In 2019, museums should be adapting to the needs of younger visitors whose lives are digitally-driven.

In April 2019, Notre Dame Cathedral was burning – thanks to the social media, there was an outpour of sentiment shared instantly and on a massive scale. Social media encourages openness and merges heritage with the every day.

There is a language of social media that we converse in – it is the language that we share and with which we contest views, sometimes simplistically.

As Greta Thunberg’s emotional address to EU leaders in Strasbourg illustrates, within the last 50 years there is a far greater awareness of the natural environment and concerns about its destruction are becoming more visible.

This generation is aware of the overcrowding of the built environment and its impact on our physical and emotional health.

We are facing a moment of profound paradigm change – at a time when culture is something to be consumed by our social media, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of young people and there is no distinguishing fact from fiction. The new generation of museum visitors want to create their own shared culture, their own heritage and landscape, because their permanently connected lifestyle represents a maze of windows.

The challenge for museums: forget the millennials, are you ready for Gen Z?

Born between 1995 and 2010, there are nearly 17 million people around the globe. The size and influence makes them an enormously important group in terms of consuming what we produce in museums. They are sometimes stereotyped as the ‘selfie generation’ and even more digital than millennials.

By 2020, half of Gen Z will come from a multicultural family so it is more important than ever for museums to embrace diversity in their programming; it means outreach, marketing and renewed fundraising efforts.

The ‘digital natives’ cannot remember a time when there was no digital. They don’t know the world before social media.

They see social media as a communication platform and to them it is not even “a thing”, it is the normal way to connect to the world, express themselves, show off, debate, and so much more.

42% of Gen Z say that social media affects how people see you, so it is tied to identity – there is a feeling of the outside looking in which affects what they post. They are hyper-connected and can access information anywhere, anytime. Research suggests that Gen Z believe that developing skills and knowledge using technology, they will be able to help others and solve the problems we left them.

They can hack through anything, they don’t see limits but opportunities; they feel they can break down tradition and achieve great things.

They are multidimensional spatial thinkers; some research has shown that the brains of Gen Z are structurally different than those of previous generations. They have become wired to complex, sophisticated visual imagery and the part of the brain for visual imagery is far more developed, which makes visual forms of learning much more effective; auditory learning (lectures and discussion) is strongly disliked by this group but they like collaborative projects, interactive games, challenges. They are used to pinching, zooming and swiping, they are used to 360 degree photography and they like being co-creators.

They gravitate towards live stream media and prefer instructional videos over anything else. They don’t wait for their parents to teach them something, they will search for it on YouTube.

Many have a great fear of failure and are not risk-takers but are ironically characterised by their optimism and feel highly about their abilities.

What we see emerging is the picture of a generation interested in global issues and wanting social justice.  This is a critical consideration for museums, educators and heritage professionals.

The average attention span of a millennial is 12 seconds while the average attention span of a Gen Z is 8 seconds.

Gen Z prefers to engage in self-exploration and would rather pursue their interests and develop skills that they can leverage for a future occupation.

They are extremely innovative and through technology they have become accustomed to learning independently.

So what does this mean for museums that we are developing in the 21st Century?

Between concerns about museums, our resilience and sustainability, we need to look ahead and figure out how museums can be resilient in light of the reality of a global population that thinks in this way.

Dr Douglas illustrates the requirements for a gen Z museum in 2016 and 2019 and changes in communication landscape:

2016 – Internet, smartphone, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter –


2019 – YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, live streaming, Chatbox and tutorial videos.

Museum communication teams have to engage with these platforms in 2019.

The exhibition environment is changing: event-driven exhibitions that would bring people in because there was a party. Gen Z do not have time for the party you set up and they are tired of taking selfies.

They look for exhibitions and events relevant to them and that helps them reach their objectives.

In terms of content, we had global content and wanted to be as inclusive as possible. Three years later, young audiences want meaningful, personal connections.

Regarding technology, Gen Z want human interaction (more 3D printers, things that they can interact with), they are looking for contact and are ‘’post-digital.

The aim is to include Gen Z as a driving force of knowledge, not just as a tokenistic act.

There are new ways we need to think about heritage if we want to engage the next generation and deal with the challenges they represent in terms of their values, ethics and how they make sense of the world.

We are creating interactive cultural experiences to bring Gen Z into the museum.

Gen Z feels overwhelmed by the profusion of information thrown at them daily. They don’t make time for social events especially if outside an urban area, Digital has become mundane, inseparable from daily life.

They have many platforms on at the same time and like to watch activities, people do things (like people playing videogames).

They like live streaming in their study session, communicating via a chat running the whole time.

They also learn languages on these platforms.

In terms of social media, there is often a distrust and they are often aware of the amount of disinformation out there and concerned about online privacy.

Because they are post digital, they collect vintage materials like books and records and they are interested in craftsmanship.

This offers museums an opportunity for innovative exhibition design, equalising the status of digital and analogue; to envision materials and practice that starts with asking people to take part in the development process (3D printing, models…).  Post-digital also means making materials available to the touch; tactile exhibits make culture accessible, getting young people involved and keeping the objects safe.


 “Heritage artefacts not only constitute a legacy for future generations but they also play a crucial role in shaping our sense of place and sense of identity.”

Prof. Elisa Giaccardi, Reframing Heritage



The Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar offered an interesting example of building resilience and relevance through its Relaunch project and exhibitions.

MIA is a centre for information, research and creativity as well as a hub for dialogue and cultural exchange. Since its opening 10 years ago, it has been developing as an institution with a civic role focused on attracting a variety of audiences both national and international. It has become a place where people come and have coffee, join in activities and events, lecture series, concerts and movie screenings.

The aim is to encourage visitors to also learn about Islamic art and it is proving to be a winning strategy.

Visitor numbers decreased after initial opening and sanctions imposed on Qatar.

The Qatar government changed its visa policy, allowing many countries to enter without a visa to encourage international visitors and visitor numbers have gone up by 20%.  Attendance numbers also dwindled in 2018 after the opening of a neighbouring museum.

MIA decided to conduct an evaluation of visitors and it emerged that visitors focussed on the aesthetic qualities of the artefacts and had a  fleeting level of engagement with the objects and learn very little about Islamic art.

Visitor feedback showed that basic questions about the objects were not being answered and key messages were not being conveyed.

Looking at the museum display strategy, it offers a deeply aesthetic experience with the objects at the centre of attention providing minimal information about the object.

As a result, MIA decided to undertake a project they named ‘Relaunch’.

They identified improvements that could enhance the visitors’ experience across the museum; they refreshed the presentation, changed the aesthetic of several key areas in the museum such as main reception, education, auditorium.

Some of the key desired outcomes of the ‘Relaunch’ were:

  • To improve the museum relevance for today and the future
  • To increase the level of visitors’ engagement, understanding and appreciation of Islamic art collection
  • To contextualise the objects and tell the wider stories
  • To offer an insight into production and creative process
  • To provide a multisensory experience to cater for different learning styles.


The analysis suggests that a strong motivator for coming to MIA is to learn about the building and architecture so they will tell the story of the building through an immersive and large projection.


The main galleries will therefore change from merely aesthetic to more comprehensive, context-driven presentations. The museum has also developed a new storyboard that is less focused on the objects and more focused on cultural and historical themes.

Their recent “Syria Matters” exhibition, which opened in 2018, tackles the historical and architectural heritage of Syria.

The exhibition took the visitors on a multisensory journey through time and space, featuring immersive and innovative digital projection of three key sites: Aleppo, the Great Mosque in Damascus and Palmyra.

This satisfied the need of visual learners from different age groups and languages and the sense of experiencing history first-hand.

MIA also offered a Reflection Room at the end of the exhibition, where visitors had the opportunity to have a voice and share their thoughts on how Syria matters to them. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds wrote touching comments, especially nostalgic ones by Syrians and people who have visited Syria.


The exhibition was the best received today with 110,000 visitors in 6 months. Some of the key factors for success were the relevance of the topic that matters to everyone, especially in the Middle East and they were able to engage visitors though interactive learning and activities that proved extremely popular.

Asian & Western Art

Curator Min-Jung Kim shared her curatorial intention of the ‘Reflections of Asia’ exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Australia, which showcases the enduring western fascination with Asia and vice versa, “celebrating the exchanges of culture that resulted in new, hybrid cultural objects”.

The Lolita dress shows how people in the East romanticise the ‘exotic West’; it is inspired by Victorian England but is characterised by the Japanese kawaii (cute) style.

The intention is to celebrate exoticism of both East and West through the museum’s hybrid collection.

We had the opportunity to learn more about Manga, a famous part of Japanese pop culture and the graphic art of storytelling.

Curator Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere discussed the latest Manga exhibition at the British Museum, a record-breaking event with a very positive response from the press (“Manga has much in common with Michelangelo”,) 180,000 visitors, 20% of which were younger than 16.

The British Museum was already deeply involved with Manga and it boasts the newly refurbished Mitsubishi Gallery, housing the most comprehensive collection of Japanese artefacts outside Japan.

The Kyoto Seika University International Manga Research Centre, an education and research centre, supports the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Its collection includes 300,000 items, 50,000 of which can be read in the museum and remaining 250,000 volumes are kept in the underground archive where temperature and humidity are regulated.



As a translation and cross-cultural communication professional, I am particularly delighted for the privileged access to Japan’s rich cultural heritage and the greater insight into the inner workings of Japanese society and culture, with its complex etiquette in both social and business situations.
The conference was a platform for international dialogue with fellow museum professionals from every corner of the world and I am keen to take further the discussions started in Kyoto.
I have come away with a clearer vision of where museums are headed and how some of the challenges ahead can be tackled to create more resilient and relevant institutions. It is now our responsibility and obligation to put this into practice and implement such ideas in our daily activities.

“Museums have no borders, they have a network”







[1] The Art Newspaper, What exactly is a museum? ICOM comes to blows over new definition,

Accessed on 17/09/2019

[2] The Guardian online, “End of Golden age; Dutch museum bans term from exhibits”

Accessed on 17/09/2019

Webinar Report: “OECD webinar: COVID-19 and museums. Impact, innovations and planning for post-crisis.”


covid webinar






The webinar, organised by OECD and ICOM and held on the 10th April, focused on three main topics:

– short and long term impact of COVID-19 on museums

– innovative solutions and opportunities for the future

– policies implemented to support the museum sector.

Museums are agents of local development as they create jobs, generate revenues, are anchoring institutions for many communities across the world; they are at the heart of regeneration projects, contribute to communities’ development and people’s wellbeing and collaborate with many other partners like schools, prisons, hospitals and job centres.

Museums across the world, both public and private, are seeing their revenues drop, which puts their financial sustainability at risk.

The American Alliance of Museums estimates that up to 30% of US museums, mostly in small, rural areas will not reopen unless they receive immediate financial assistance.

In addition to earnings’ loss, museums are also expecting a drop in charitable contributions and donations.

Even in optimistic scenarios, time will be needed to return to pre-crisis levels of domestic and international tourism which means, in the medium term, museums will have less resources for their core functions.

Of course, this reduction in revenues has an impact on jobs in museums and in the museums’ ecosystem: around the world, we see museums reduce wages and lay off staff (especially temporary staff and external contractors in publishing, exhibitions and commercial activities). There is also a threat to small companies and freelancers working in the museum’s ecosystem – working outside museums and yet vital for them.

Most museums and local development projects are put on hold and, in the medium term, there will be reduced capacities to contribute to local projects.

Looking on the bright side, faced with this unprecedented challenge, we cannot go to museums but museums have come to us. Initiatives such as #MuseumsAndChill (ICOM) #CultureChezNous (France) #myhomeismymuseum (Stuttgart), #MetAnywhere (Metropolitan Museum of Art) have arisen and are very much in demand at the moment. The Louvre has seen an increase from 40,000 online visitors a day to 400,000.

Some emerging innovations for the future:

-increased recognition of the link between culture and people’s wellbeing and mental health;

-increased recognition of the link between culture and education;

-increased level of trust in cultural institutions;

-digital becomes more important: stronger cross-fertilisation with virtual reality, stronger cross-overs between culture and education, culture and wellbeing.

 What do we need to support the museum sector and its ecosystem?

Across countries, we see different support measures being implemented to support museums and the ecosystem around them (emergency and financial assistance, income support, access to business support programs, tax incentives for public and private museums) .

According to Nathalie Bondil, Director General at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the situation varies depending on the type and size of museum (whether it is private or public, small or large).
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a private museum which receives a grant from the provincial government. Like small and medium enterprises, they are facing challenges in cash flow and have to make difficult decisions regarding staff.

Even for public museums one could think that they benefit from public support but in many countries up to 40% of revenue comes from tickets or other commercial activities or have to pay for rent. Therefore, the situation is not easy for state, public museums either.

Mattia Agnetti, Executive Director at Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia (MUVE), says that after facing the acqua alta (high water) emergency last November, museums are facing yet another challenge and there will be without doubt a shortage of revenue. Total lockdown will have an impact in the months ahead and it will take at least 10-12 months before normal operations can be resumed.

“What is interesting is how the digital offer has suddenly become the only activity that museums can offer, not a complimentary one”, says Agnetti. This posed a more far-reaching question of whether digital access should become a paid for service if lockdown continues.

In the medium term, there will be a potential restraint of scientific and cultural projects delivered by museums due to a decrease in resources.

As well as being resourceful, “museums will need to increase international collaboration between institutions. This will benefit not just the cultural projects but all the staff involved in terms of know-how, capacity building, training…)”.

Joan Roca, Director of the MUHBA-Barcelona History Museum, invited us to consider museums as the tip of an iceberg – a complex social, cultural and economic system which is now endangered. Within museums, we have a very diverse group of professionals (increasingly outsourced in the last few years) in conservation and restoration of collection, research, exhibition production, audiovisuals, education, apps, books, visits, participatory social projects…

Many are faced with layoffs, some of which temporary. “Immediate action and a Marshall Plan for culture are needed to protect this fragile network which suffered greatly during the 2008 crisis”, he said.

Museums were already undergoing a process of change and the current crisis can be an opportunity to innovate and do things differently.

“ Confinement sharpens the imagination and it is a good time to think about the future”.
Joan Roca

Inkyung Chang, Founding Director of the Iron Museum, Republic of Korea, shared the results of a recent survey carried out by the Korean Museum Association. 122 museums replied, reporting a decrease in revenue; the income loss for private museums in the month of February amounts to 1 million US dollars. Small, private museums have difficulties in maintenance and employees are laid off or forced to take unpaid vacation due to lack of cashflow.
“The report shows the vulnerability of the sector in this state of emergency, even for a short time, and the economic downturn is inescapable”, she said.

Social distancing, health and safety precautions change social behaviour and affect traditional modes of communication and ways of delivering museum contents. This highlighted a digital literacy discrepancy so museums with smaller budgets have not been able to respond by producing digital content for their audience.

“A digital museum experience does not consist in uploading images and videos – it is totally different from a traditional museum experience. It is a huge potential that has not been explored in great depth”.
Inkyung Chang

We need to train and educate staff members in digital literacy.
Traditionally, an academic background is required in museum professions but digital skillset has to be developed.

Mattia Agnetti urged us to rethink the way we deliver services to the public and manage museums.  This will require an investment in the professionals and in the profile of people working in our museums. This can be done by strengthening the links between museums and universities.  At the moment, there is only an academic link but Agnetti argues for a strengthening of operational links and the opportunity for graduates to enter a museum career.

He also stressed the importance of museums’ needs to cover operational costs in the short and medium term in order to keep alive and reopen their doors, with ad-hoc costs being left to the long term.

Prof. Pierluigi Sacco (IULM University Milan) suggested imagining this scenario as a huge social experiment, a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to restructure the relationship between museums, economy and society with a clear before and after.

How do we react to this new scenario and what kind of changes of attitude are strategically needed? Interesting ideas emerged from the discussion.

Prof. Sacco argues that the level of traffic and digital access to museums has increased so dramatically that it is clear that the possibility of accessing museums in a digital mode has contributed to maintaining people’s psychological wellbeing and mental health.
Prof. Sacco’s key takeaways were:

-Restructuring the museum experience and embracing digital potential: large parts of social constituencies don’t feel at home in museums and feel like they don’t belong but thanks to digital access, the “church-like, reverent experience that some people find intimidating has been redefined with digital access. The previous experience is not outdated but clearly new layers have been added and can create familiarity for many constituencies”.

-Change in attitude for museum professionals: are we prepared for change?To a large extent, we are not – he argues. We need to support the cultural profession financially but a huge capacity-building exercise is also needed. Skills and attitudes needed from culture professionals are profoundly different today. It is important to push innovation in reacting to the crisis.

-Change in engagement: Museums as physical hubs can be intimidating to some but are extremely stimulating for others… How can museums maintain the role of a social and knowledge hub in this new scenario?

-Social impact: a prominent role of museums and cultural institutions in the new scenario (Montreal Museum has created a new ecosystem and an innovative dialogue between culture and health with prescribed museum visits, for example).

The new European Agenda for Culture, published in 2018 by the European Commission, provides us with an interesting blueprint for a massive role of museums and cultural institutions as social platforms.

It is important to think of support but also the proactive reaction of cultural institutions not as endangered species to be supported but as a new engine for social change at a time when culture can play a key role in preserving social cohesion.

Maciej Hofman, from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture, shared an insight into policies put in place to alleviate the crisis.

Last week, Commissioner for Innovation, Research and Culture Mariya Gabriel took part in a meeting with 27 EU Cultural Ministers to discuss a coherent response to the situation.

The European Union offers tools such as structural funds and extra funding to mitigate unemployment damages but how they are used is at the discretion of national governments. It is up to advocacy groups and networks to ensure these tools are used for museums and cultural heritage institutions. Last week the Network of European Museum Organisation (NEMO) has released a Covid19 report investigating the impact of the virus on museums across the continent.

The EU is currently negotiating the budget for the next 7 years and it is important that the budget for culture is appropriate.




Museums at Coronavirus Times






As museums around the globe shut down their hallowed halls to protect the health and safety of visitors and staff, many have also risen valiantly to open up new doors. While much of the world waits in self-quarantine, museums leaders are developing and expanding their digital programming to make their collections and other offerings available online. It’s testimony to the incredibly gifted and hard-working museum staff — that they are able, during this exceptional time, to continue carrying out the mission of the institutions they serve.

Connecting Through Art, Online

From the British Museum in London to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to the MET and the Guggenheim in New York City, thousands of years’ worth of creative output is housed within their collections. Faced with the modern mission of bringing their collections to the people as sources of inspiration, learning, and community connection, these Coronavirus times bring new levels of challenge, but more importantly: new opportunities. Kids and their parents can explore, gaining knowledge about not only art but history as well. Many science museums are also taking their missions online, with virtual exploration of their exhibits. Take a cursor-led virtual walking tour, Google Maps style, of the German Oceanographic Museum, for example, and stroll past glass cases full of ocean critters, even zooming in on tiny shells and crustaceans if you so please.

Many of these online initiatives can be accessed from a central portal, developed by Google’s heretofore little-known Arts & Culture division, available here. And from the home page, you can also explore temples, the great opera houses, national parks in the USA, and more. Try an introspective of Latin American artist Frida Kahlo’s extraordinary wardrobe at Museo Frida Kahlo. Or go museum hopping and try an in-depth exploration of Paul Cezanne’s blues, via a slideshow of curated pieces from multiple collections.

An Unprecedented Opportunity for Impact

For the museum tech community, for whom advancing the cause of digital transformation has always been a priority, now is the time to shine. This is a critical crossroads: providing access to art and museum content has never before meant so much to many. For hard-working folks who normally don’t have time to feed their artistic inclinations, or for busy parents who rarely have time to sit down and explore the digital world with their kids, these online resources are filling a void that social distancing has only begun to open up. As precautionary public health measures increase around the globe, museum tech leaders will be continue to make an even greater impact on the quality of life for those stuck indoors. This is their moment.

For the rest, there is also opportunity for impact. For parents stuck at home with children, these online resources represent a welcome alternative to Netflix, and the chance to explore and learn together — to truly connect with each other in new ways. It’s also a way to connect with others who are doing the same from their own couches and kitchen tables around the world. In essence, it’s a way to share the Covid 19 experience globally from a positive framework, rather than one of fear, panic, and divisiveness.

The Importance of Multilingual Museum Resources in a Contemporary Setting

From the smallest venues to the world stage, modern sentiments towards The Other are shifting at an alarming rate. Rampant xenophobia and nationalism, long thought to be just barely concealed beneath the surface, have boiled over spectacularly in places such as the United States with the election of Donald Trump emboldening racial bigotry. Other places in the world have followed suit, such as the UK with Brexit bringing out the worst in people, perhaps culminating with Boris Johnson emerging as newly-minted Prime Minister.

Indeed, it’s become readily apparent that there are highly vocal movements that seek to reject multiculturalism — and one of the most common ways this is done is by placing a focus on erecting language barriers by discouraging or outright excluding languages other than English. This is nothing new; complaints of “why should I have to ‘press 1 for English'” have been rampant for decades now. However, what is both new and unique is the progressive response to this xenophobia — and how museums, of all places, are quietly but defiantly leading the way.

Cienpies Design

Simple and Effective

The push towards multicultural inclusivity begins with measures to support universal accessibility. There are simple and effective ways to accomplish this, and the museum community is accomplishing this by providing multilingual resources to visitors. Doing so ensures that larger percentages of patrons can receive the full benefit of a museum visit, and often without creating undue financial or administrative burdens on the museums themselves.

An excellent example of this is how museums in Minnesota have adopted a new policy to use multilingual wall labels for exhibits. Recent exhibits on Cuban art at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center feature bilingual text, with special care taken to use Cuban idioms where appropriate. An even more ambitious exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art featuring Native American artists saw the use of dozens of languages specific to the tribes represented in the exhibit.

Photo credit: Iakov Filimonov
Photo credit: Iakov Filimonov

Sending a Powerful Message

It’s true that, statistically, the number of non-English speaking attendees to these exhibits was low, based on the general population demographics of Minnesota. Yet providing multilingual wall labels does more than simply provide access for native speakers — it also sends a strong message that languages other than English are not to be denigrated, ignored, or erased, and that the validity and value of non-English-speaking cultures need to be celebrated and offered high measures of protection instead of being used as an excuse to ‘Otherize’ those who don’t speak English or another Western language.

Sending these messages is part of the modern mandate of museums around the world. Cultural diplomacy such as Minnesota museums is engaging in has been echoed globally, with one remarkable example coming from one of our translation clients, Rome’s Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI), which “exports” its exhibitions by hosting or co-producing its exhibits with other museums around the world. MAXXI exhibitions have been exported to Valencia, Buenos Aires, and Lisbon in recent years, showcasing efforts in building international communities that transcend single languages that fight back against otherwise contemporary isolationist impulses.

Cherry sculpture in Minneapolis garden, Minnesota, USA
Cherry sculpture in Minneapolis garden, Minnesota, USA

Paving the Way Forward

Both globally and locally, the need to lift up and engage with other cultures beyond our own is growing alongside the misguided notions of nationalistic individuals and groups that seek to exclude those who don’t fit their arbitrary criteria. Leveraging multilingual approaches in museum settings is just one more way to prevent the spread of xenophobia and bigotry.


“Profound Healthy” Debate Over the Definition of Museums Marks the 25th ICOM General Conference

ICOM Postpones Vote on New Museum Definition in Light of Growing Rift in the International Community

There’s no doubt that museums are changing. As society evolves, so too do our museums – their nature, the purposes they serve, and the ideals they represent. Since 1946, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has maintained a definition of “museum” that is used throughout the international community as a common reference point. Museums from Palermo to Pyongyang use the definition as a benchmark for creating visionary statements, setting goals, and planning outreach programs that are relevant, meaningful, and sustainable. In some countries, even federal policy makers pay close attention to the ICOM definition, as it’s woven into legislation and used to set national agendas.


Time for a New Definition, But Not Yet Time for a Vote

Over the years, ICOM has made only minor tweaks to the definition set nearly a quarter of a century ago. An ongoing debate over the role and impact of language in museums, combined with an emerging debate over the legacy of colonisation represented in museums across the globe, has put ICOM in the hot seat. With pressure to create a new definition that addresses these issues and embodies 21st-Century ideals, they have become de facto arbitrators in what may just be the debate of the century for the international museum community.

At the 25th ICOM General Conference in Kyoto this past September, the vote on the new definition of “museum” was postponed, in light of the fact that it has provoked “profound healthy debate” over inclusivity and community in today’s museums.



The Linchpin of the Debate: the Dutch “Golden Age”

The power of language to shape our impressions of culture and history brings to light a new, heightened sensitivity over the very words used in museums to describe exhibits. Super-charging the debate, The Amsterdam Museum now spearheads a progressive movement to acknowledge this impact. They, along with other museums in the Netherlands, are questioning the historical terms that have always been used in their museums as they struggle with the legacy of a colonial past.

For the Dutch, the term in question is the “Golden Age”, the era where the Dutch Masters created some of the world’s most treasured art. But the Golden Age represented more than an artistic fervor – it was also a time when the Dutch reached a pinnacle of wealth in the world– largely due to its colonization efforts – and slavery.

Forging Ahead in Amsterdam

A recent exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum’s Portrait Gallery is currently forcing the debate over the language used in museums. Called “Dutch Masters Revisited”, the exhibition features modern-day celebrities dressed in 17th-century costumes to promote the concept of inclusion. The museum’s artistic director explains, stating that the “Golden Age” was only golden for a small segment of the population. Those who felt the harsh impact of slavery or who simply did not share in the wealth of the era are severely underrepresented in art from the era. And by continuing to associate prosperity with the suffering of others, museums are not fulfilling their missions of inclusivity. Indeed, they risk alienating today’s increasingly diverse museum-going populations, whose perspectives on 17th-century history may be radically different than their own.

Fierce Debate in Amsterdam, “Profound, Healthy” Debate in Kyoto

In an attempt to portray a more balanced perspective, the museum’s directors have decided to remove all instances of the term “Golden Age” in their museum. That has sparked harsh criticism from Dutch conservatives, calling it “too ridiculous for words[1]

While the Kyoto debate was civil and thoughtful, there is an undeniable rift in the ICOM community, too, over the wording of the new definition of museums. As a translation agency, we are following the debate with great interest as it shows yet another dimension of the power of language in the context of museums.

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Not all Translations are Created Equal – What Makes a Quality Museum Translation. PART 1

What does a museum translator do that other types of translators don’t do? 

It’s easy to spot a translation blunder- remember HSBC’s 2009 “Assume Nothing” campaign got translated into “Do Nothing”? Lots of global brands have made them – even presidents have fallen victim to occasional bad translation jobs. However, what many people don’t realise is that blunders like that are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible in a bad translation job. Unfortunately, they’re not that easy to spot unless you’re a skilled translator yourself.

What’s more – in the case of museum translation, the only true test of a (translation) job well done is the impact it makes on the receiver. That’s because the job of a museum translator is more about expressing the artist’s intent than the mere translation of words. Or rather, it’s about expressing the exhibit curator’s vision about the artist’s intent.

Museum Translators Speak for the Art Through the Curator’s Vision

Expressing an artist’s meaning or a curator’s vision – not just any type of translator is equipped to handle high-impact, subjective material like art. Museum-goers typically have high expectations of the work that translators do. They expect meaning and vision to bridge the language barrier and come through so that they can come away having had an statue

People listen to audio guides, read exhibition displays, and seek out other interpretive material because they want context for the exhibits they’ve come to see. Not only that, but they want the context of the exhibits to be presented to them in a way that’s relatable to their own experience. It’s no different just because someone happens to speak a different language. Just like everyone else who visits a museum, they too want a meaningful story into which they can place the art that stands before them. In this way, museum translators are storytellers.

Museum Translators are Storytellers

Within a well-told story, a museum-goer finds relatable events that bring live the art they’re viewing.

Take Monet’s Haystacks, for example. A museum visitor can visit Musée d’Orsay in Paris and remark how “pretty” they are. But until they learn what he was attempting to do (capture light and atmosphere on canvas) and what he went through in the process (braving the elements to paint endless iterations of the same scene on different days and in different weather), that’s all they are – just pretty paintings.

And beyond that, there’s what all of that represented for Claude Monet. These paintings depict the countryside- what did that mean for Money and what does it mean for modern-day viewers? Experts, for the most part, concur that Monet viewed the countryside as a retreat from the stresses of daily life. A friend of Monet’s said “These canvases breathe contentment”.

Does “the countryside” trigger the idea of “contentment” in every culture? What about places where the countryside represents “backwardness”, which is often true where the economy is still largely agrarian. In some Asian countries, for example, kids can be heartlessly cruel to a schoolmate who gets sunburned cheeks. Not because it looks funny but because it reminds them of someone from the countryside!


It’s a Multi-Level Merging of Different Contexts

Context, as you know, goes far beyond facts. Context is storytelling – storytelling with an eye toward the listener’s way of seeing the world.

The receiver in every translation moment has a context, too. It’s their cultural background, their experience, their gender, their nationality, and whatever else informs their thought processes. Even their native language and the way meaning gets transcribed in that language contributes to how people understand the things around them.

In short, every receiver has a personal and cultural context from which they interpret the world. It takes a specialised translator to successfully link that context with the context of the art to create high-impact meaning that resonates with the receiver on a deeper level. Only a specialised translator, who understands both of these contexts, will be able to draw from the receiver’s cultural context to spark the imagination.

Finally, it’s this ability to spark the imagination that separates museum translators from their non-specialised peers. Once tapped into, the imagination is what will trigger an emotional response to the art. That, in a nutshell, is what all artists and all curators are seeking. This is what a specialised museum translator has to offer.

gallery visitors


Language Museums Around the World

If you were presented with a short article that had been written by a robot, would you be able to tell? This is just one of the many fascinating ideas you can explore while visiting a new crop of language museums around the world.There are already lots of museums which, by presenting their exhibits in minority languages, take on a secondary role of pulling language to the forefront.

But the following language museums are taking more than a passive role in promoting an interest in language. They actively explore the linguistic concepts that weigh on the minds of today’s movers and shakers. They take these heady concepts and bring them down to a palatable level for museum-goers to digest. And by doing so, they make learning about language absolutely enjoyable. Continue reading “Language Museums Around the World”

Multilingualism in Museums, Part 5

Marketing3 Marketing Terms Modern Museum Translators Need to Know (and Why)

These days, effective translating in museums is about communication, not just translation. In that and many other ways, modern museum translators find themselves borrowing from the world of marketing to engage visitors. 

This is part three in our series on multilingualism in museums. This time, we focus on the forces that drive our translation techniques and how similar they can be to those that drive marketers.

Brush Up on Your Marketing Terms

If you’re at all familiar with modern marketing techniques these days, then you might have heard the terms “user experience”, “hyperlocal”, and “buyer persona”. They’re buzzwords that get bandied about in marketing circles but which might sound a little foreign to museum translators.

That’s a shame since translators need to know about these terms if they’re going to help museums fulfil their mission-based goals. Each term, in its own way, describes an important concept in how to effectively communicate with the people you need to reach. Whether it’s a consumer of shoes online or a consumer of ideas in a museum, the key to reaching both is communication. Marketers know this. Museum translators need to know it, too. Here’s why…

Driving Force: the Mission-Based Role of Communication in Museums

We’re well past the days when museums were considered the “keepers of culture”, or mere storage and preservation halls for the artefacts of history. Nowadays, museum mission statements have been rewritten to incorporate a new agenda: the notion of having a responsibility to serve the public.


How do modern museums fulfil this type of visitor-oriented mission?

  • Outreach
  • Engagement
  • Interdisciplinary exhibits
  • Interactive exhibits
  • And more

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Museum translators play an increasingly important role in helping museums teams reach these and other goals.

Not surprisingly then, the tools they use are remarkably similar to those used by modern digital marketers. That’s because it’s all about communication: how to best communicate with your target audience.

Here are three concepts museum translators (and the museum communication team) can borrow from the field of marketing to reach a diverse population of museum visitors.

1. Buyer Persona

Marketers study “buyer personas”, which are fictional characters representing the ideal customer. It helps them envision their target audience so they can create targeted messaging for the customers they most want to reach.

Translators need to be briefed with several buyer personas so they, too, can envision whom they’re targeting with their translations. For example, there’s the immigrant community located near the museum who might benefit from some outreach programs. The way you word your marketing collateral, your exhibition panels and other translations can greatly affect how well you’re able to engage that particular population. Bring them to life as you create your translations and you’ll do a better job of “speaking their language”.

3. Contextual Marketing

Culturally-sensitive translations can go a long way toward reaching a specific population. Marketers call this idea “contextual marketing”. Translators have a different word:

You’ve heard the term “transcreation“? It’s the notion that translators need to deliver a targeted message to a specific population (sounds a lot like marketing!). Transcreation involves creating a culturally-sensitive message that may or may not be different from the original.

4. Hyperlocal

Girl in museumDigital marketers benefit when they can build a local customer base comprised of people who live or work within walking distance of their client. That pretty much sums up what museums are attempting when they do local outreach to underserved populations. Whether it’s the immigrant population they’d like to bring in for cultural sharing events or it’s the bilingual kids in the local elementary school who’d love to visit the museum for a school trip, your local audience matters just as much as those who are visiting from around the globe.

Making your translations feel local with region-specific references and personalized messaging based on demographics, weather, or geography can help translators reach a hyperlocal audience.


Thinking like a marketer can help align you with museum goals. Rather than just preserving artefacts and educating the privileged few, as they did in the past, museums now see their role vastly expanded to include serving diverse populations and responding to their needs… even competing for their interests(1). We hope these three marketing concepts can help you help your museum clients reach those goals.



When Museum Walls Aren’t Sending the Right (Colour) Message


Museums spend an inordinate amount of resources on choosing colours for their walls. Beyond even the most discerning of home interior decorators, the gallery teams in charge of exhibit wall paint apply an almost scientific approach to their task, sometimes taking weeks to pinpoint the right hue.

They do this, of course, to ensure maximum enjoyment for their visitors. Continue reading “When Museum Walls Aren’t Sending the Right (Colour) Message”