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Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture (MA)

Course Description

This course looks at the way that museums, galleries and other cultural institutions are changing to meet the needs of the 21st century. The MA has been designed for students who wish to work as curators, arts organisers, museum professional and other cultural managers and who want to know in particular how these institutions face contemporary issues. It looks at the changing role of cultural provision and how agencies, festivals and flexible organisations shape, house, fund, and disseminate culture today. The course also gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the contemporary debates about working practices in cultural institutions, and the changing context in which organisations operate.

The course concentrates on professional practice and you will work closely with institutions such as Tate Britain and the Museum of London, and conduct case studies into creative projects run by organisations as diverse as the Victoria and Albert Museum, smaller independent galleries and London-based festivals and arts organisations. Classes are taught off-site at other institutions, and involve professionals from the sector as much as possible to give you an understanding of vocational issues and a close involvement in the workplace.

Course content

You will examine key issues and themes in the museums and gallery sector, and explore how these are dealt with not just in theory, but also on a day-to-day basis by leading institutions. You will learn about the challenges faced by museums and galleries, how they confront them and how they are developing innovative practices in relation to their collections, exhibitions and audiences. For example, sessions address how institutions use internet resources for learning and to promote their collections, new approaches to understanding arts audiences, and collaborations between creative arts organisations and museums.

Gaining professional knowledge is an important part of the course and you will be encouraged to have a close involvement with institutions through internships, work placements and projects. The course is also designed to facilitate students who are currently in professional employment in cultural institutions. Professional work projects or internships can be used to replace modules on the course, as special study units, so that your work experience can contribute to the degree.

The course is taught alongside the Visual Culture MA and shares modules with this and with other MAs taught in the Department, offering you a broad theoretic context that can cover wider aspects of the arts. The teaching team are curators, museum and gallery professionals, as well as scholars and fine artists. Teaching methods include seminars, tutorials, practical sessions and workshops, together with independent, student-directed study. The course has a strong emphasis on vocational learning, and you are encouraged to undertake professional placements and internships.

Assessment methods include coursework (essays, oral presentations and professional project reports) as well as the final 10-12,000-word dissertation. There are no formal examinations.

Core modules

- Art Museums and Contemporary Culture
This module takes a case-study approach to the position of Tate Britain and leading international art museums and asks how they define their roles and priorities within the contemporary art world. Specific themes include: how contemporary research interests are developed by scholarship within the collection and through exhibitions; how different approaches to collecting art have evolved and reflect institutions' different priorities, material interests and ideologies; and the relationship of institutions to the commercial art world, festivals and art fairs. You will also explore the changing relationship of signature buildings to an institution's identity, and how major institutions are presented as a 'brand'.

- Current Issues in Museums and Gallery Studies
This module introduces students to the current issues being discussed by professionals and the pressing issues that are facing their institutions. They range from the changing role of organisations as public bodies and what their responsibilities are, to working in a post-recession economy where public funding is diminishing, to the ethics of sponsorship from the private sector. It will address topical issues such as the inclusivity and accessibility of organisations to audiences with disabilities and how museums deal with claims for the repatriation of artefacts to other countries.

The module is structured around talks from museum and gallery professionals with additional reading groups where students will tackle the way issues are discussed in professional journals. This is a core module that all students will take as it covers essential knowledge for the MA.

- Dissertation
This extended piece of research work is an opportunity for you to pursue a topic of individual interest, and is conducted through individual study and directed supervision. The module also includes preparation of a detailed research proposal. It consists of preliminary workshops focused on relevant research skills, followed by individual tutorials with your supervisor.

Option modules

Choose five from:
- Collecting Today: Curating, Presenting and Managing Collections
This module is taught at the Museum of London and it uses a case-study approach to examine how different aspects of the culture and history of London are represented through collections and collecting. You will look at the ways in which a major museum can develop its collections through acquisition and different strategies, interests and ideologies. You will analyse how sub-collections and micro-collections represent an important component of a broader collection, how different forms of material – such as oral history – require particular sorts of resources, and how new approaches to collecting are developed, such as using 'non-professional' collectors.

- Education, Learning and Events
This module is taught with curators from Tate Britain and Tate Modern, with case studies at other organisations. It shows how education and learning activities range from work with schools and colleges, arts activities with community groups, to the production of interpretation materials, all of which engage critically with a museum or gallery's collections and exhibitions.

The module also explores why special events play an important role in the way museums and galleries reach their public. It will examine late night openings, artists' commissions, and activities outside the building. Students on the module will cover how these programmes are developed, managed and evaluated.

- Exhibiting Photogtaphy
This module will look at different curatorial strategies that organisations use, from group shows around a specific theme to solo artist's exhibitions, from historical shows to contemporary work, from traditional printed photographs hung in frames to art made for public spaces. It examines how exhibiting the digital image, on-line or as a networked image, presents many different concerns as well as opportunities.
Galleries and spaces studied on the module include The Photographers' Gallery, which is one of the first public galleries in the world dedicated to exhibiting photography as art, the Victoria and Albert Museum which was one of the first museums to ever collect photography and therefore has an unrivalled collection representing the history of photography, the Science Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

- London Museums
This module aims to give students a critical knowledge of the breadth and diversity of museums in London. It is structured around visits to a range of museums including national institutions (such as the National Maritime Museum), local museums within the greater metropolis of London such the Horniman Museum, museums that have small specialist collections, museums associated with historic houses, and museums that are part of other institutions like hospitals. Students will interview curators and museum professionals to research the role their chosen museum plays within London through examining their operation, policies and strategies.

- Museum Narratives
This module is developed as a case study of the Museum of London, and analyses how the different academic and cultural approaches to London's past inform the narratives presented by the museum. You will explore the concept of narrative used in social and cultural history, and examine how dominant narratives and sub-narratives have been used to represent London, including though interdisciplinary approaches that encompass literature, history, visual and material cultures.You will also look outside the Museum of London to compare how the subject of London is represented, understood and interpreted by other museums, galleries, archives and cultural institutions.

- Online Museums and Galleries
The internet has created challenges to traditional ways of operating and new opportunities for development, and through this module addresses how cultural institutions and organisations are using it. You will examine a range of approaches from museums and galleries that have developed comprehensive on-line portals to their entire collections, to on-line sited that work as alternative environments to the 'parent' analogue institutions, to networking between institutions that links collections and services. You will also look at the role of on-line organisations that exclusively operate on the internet. Subjects covered include asset management, intellectual property, audience development and social networking.

- Representing World Cultures
This module examines changing visual representations of world cultures in a range of contexts - specifically, leading London Museums and galleries, and their associated websites, programmes and publications. You will look at the role of curators, designers, educators and other workers, and their contributions to the way that cultures are represented. You will also consider post-colonialism and the issues surrounding the representation of non-western cultures in contemporary western institutions. Key issues explored include: artists' interventions in museums and galleries; collecting the contemporary world; presenting religions; representations of Africa and Asia in London collections; the physical museum space as a cultural document; and visitors as citizens and consumers.

Associated careers

Graduates will have the skills to work in a variety of positions in the cultural sector, including in the post of curator, consultant, arts and media strategists and advisers, funding officers or education and interpretation officers.


At Westminster, we have always believed that your University experience should be designed to enhance your professional life. Today’s organisations need graduates with both good degrees and employability skills, and we are committed to enhancing your graduate employability by ensuring that career development skills are embedded in all courses.

Opportunities for part-time work, placements and work-related learning activities are widely available, and can provide you with extra cash and help you to demonstrate that you have the skills employers are looking for. In London there is a plentiful supply of part-time work – most students at the University of Westminster work part time (or full time during vacations) to help support their studies.

We continue to widen and strengthen our links with employers, involving them in curriculum design and encouraging their participation in other aspects of career education and guidance. Staff take into account the latest data on labour market trends and employers’ requirements to continually improve the service delivered to students.

Visit the Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture (MA) page on the University of Westminster website for more details!

Entry Requirements

You will normally be required to have a good first degree or equivalent. Applications from mature candidates with demonstrable relevant work experience and relevant professional qualifications are welcomed. In these cases, you may be required to undertake a written entrance test in the form of a short 1,500-word essay, and may also be required to assemble a work experience portfolio (consisting of testimonials, job descriptions etc). If your first language is not English, you will need an IELTS score of 6.5, with at least 6.5 in each other element

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