Two major German cultural institutions — Bundeskunsthalle (Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany) in Bonn and Dresden’s Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD, Museum of Decorative Arts and Design) — have welcomed new recommendations from Citizens’ Assemblies on ways to invigorate and enrich their programming for the sake of the communities they serve.
Healthy museums help make healthy democracies. A recent European Commission study shows that going to museums and participating in cultural activities strengthens democracy and social cohesion and does so independently of a person’s socio-economic background or education level.
In a groundbreaking collaboration with DemocracyNext, Design & Democracy (Amelie Klein and Vera Sacchetti), and nexus, the Bonn and Dresden museums asked everyday people, selected by sortition (lottery), to deliberate on how their institutions could become more inviting, inclusive, and relevant Nexusto their lives. The sortition process by mail resulted in a 10% acceptance rate—more than double the average—demonstrating a strong interest from citizens in helping shape the future of their museums.
“By learning what people really think about culture and the arts from Citizens’ Assemblies, cultural institutions like the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn and SKD in Dresden have an opportunity to reinvent themselves for the 21st century as genuinely democratic and inclusive spaces,” said Alice Rawsthorn, award-winning design critic, DemocracyNext board member and author of Design as an Attitude.
Each Assembly was composed of 35 people, broadly representative of the Bonn and Dresden communities; they met for four days of informed deliberation on the questions posed to them by the museum staff. In addition to capturing the diversity of Bonn and Dresden in terms of age, gender, location, and socio-economic background, many of the people selected said they don’t often visit museums, yet they had the opportunity to share valuable insights that would have been difficult to capture otherwise. nexus facilitated.
The Citizens’ Assemblies developed a comprehensive list of recommendations: from dedicated exhibitions for children, inclusivity trainings for museum staff, more seating in exhibition halls, simpler jargon-free language describing exhibitions, interactive exhibitions that engage visitors’ minds and bodies, co-creation processes where pieces are created together with other visitors and museum team members, the opportunity to vote for what kinds of exhibitions people would like to see in Dresden, and a permanent Citizens’ Assembly to advise Bundeskunsthalle on strategic decisions more systematically, amongst others.
“These Assemblies demonstrate that citizen deliberation can fit seamlessly in cultural institutions. They represent an exciting new avenue for museums, theatres, libraries, and concert halls to directly and constructively involve the public in taking decisions that shape the future of these institutions and transform them into more open, inclusive, and genuinely democratic public spaces,” said Claudia Chwalisz, Founder and CEO of DemocracyNext.
A report with the detailed list of recommendations will be made public in January 2024 (Bonn) and May 2024 (Dresden).
The recommendations have been welcomed by museum directors and will help guide their transformation to become more open and inclusive for all.
Eva Kraus, Director of the Bundeskhunstalle, commented on why she wanted to initiate a Citizens’ Assembly on democratising the museum: "We want the Bundeskunsthalle to become a more welcoming, inclusive, and diverse place, and are seeking to enable social dialogue on relevant issues, especially within these changing times. We have invited the citizens of Bonn - our neighbours - and engaged in a very fruitful process together. It has offered a great experience for all of us and we are very grateful to be able to learn from each other."
After having observed the Citizens’ Assembly in Dresden, Thomas A. Geisler, Director of the Kunstgewerbemuseum, said: “Lately a lot has been debated in theory about the democratisation of museums as systems. Experiencing a Citizen‘s Assembly in real-time opens up ways forward for the institution, as well as the Assembly Members, who experienced the museum as a place of self-empowerment.”
DemocracyNext is an international non-profit, non-partisan research and action institute. Our mission is to shift political and legislative power to people. We advocate for, design, embed, and empower Citizens’ Assemblies as defining institutions of a new paradigm of citizen-led democracy.