Oil sponsors? Twitter? Stop that, museums.

I can think of no justification whatsoever for a museum to be accepting sponsorship from an oil company in this day and age. It was embarrassing back in 2000 when I first joined the sector to see Shell / BP / Equinor / BNFL sponsoring galleries, exhibitions, exhibits and interactives. The “but the museum has full editorial control” angle never washed, not even 20+ years ago.

And now, in 2023? Museums should surely be running at a hundred miles an hour in the opposite direction – but nope, many of them seem to be continuing along this path, in what seem like extraordinary acts of cultural blindness.

Museums are strapped for cash, more strapped than they’ve ever been, so the pressure to seek out big deals with rich benefactors is obviously on in a big way. But: there are hundreds of companies out there doing good things – or at least not doing quite so obviously bad things – that the idea of any sponsorship department approaching an oil giant just seems so wilfully, horribly, obviously blind.

And Twitter? Well, I’ve got a longer post to write about museums and social media in general (in short: social media is dying: museums should do less of it) but it does seem to me now really quite obvious that Twitter / X has become a wholly toxic place to be, and as such somewhere that museums should be thinking very hard about inhabiting. It’s pretty clear already which side of history Twitter is going to end up on. Would a museum open a Truth Social or a Gab account? I very much doubt it. Just because Twitter wasn’t evil once doesn’t mean it isn’t evil today – and museums should be thinking really hard about their options here.

It seems clear that the information landscape we’re inhabiting is going to become more and more muddy over the next 2-5 years. It’s already a shit-show, with AI content generation only just starting to ramp up. We’re already seeing the impact of social swarms, lives ruined and cancelled by fake-generated content. And this – as almost anyone in the industry can see – clearly ain’t nothing compared to what is to come.

Surely the space that museums should be aiming to occupy here is one where moderation, truth, curation, knowledge and expertise are the holy grail? Surely these places are where people will turn when their feeds and inboxes and news headlines are full of so much fake stuff that they’ll be looking for sources of truth, sources with compassion, balance and nuance? Isn’t there a huge opportunity for museums here to be brave, to stand up and show themselves as being these spaces – organisations not sullied by oil money, not carried along in a tide of populism – but places where real stories can be researched, and told, and believed?