Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture MA
Alternative attendance modes for this course
Courses start in September, unless otherwise stated
View course-specific 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.
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.
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.
Gaining professional knowledge is an important part of the course and you will be able to meet curators and museum professionals. The University also assists students to gain internships, work placements and to work on professional projects.
The teaching team are curators, museum and gallery professionals, as well as university academics. You will be taught through seminars, tutorials, practical sessions and workshops, together with independent, student-directed study where students develop their own project. If you are interested in studying the broader theoretical context of museum and gallery issues you can also take modules from other courses taught in the Department, such as Art and Visual Culture MA.
Assessment methods include written coursework - essays, presentations, proposals and project reports as well as a final 10,000–12,000-word Major Research Project.
The following modules are indicative of what you will study on this course. For more details on course structure and modules, and how you will be taught and assessed, see the full course document.
Current Issues in Museum and Gallery Studies
On this module you will learn about current debates being addressed by professionals in the sector and with the pressing issues that are facing arts and cultural institutions. These topics 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. You 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.
Major Research Project
The Major Research Project is an extended piece of research work. It is designed as an opportunity for students to pursue a topic of individual interest, where they work independently from the classroom, although the process will be supervised. The Major Research Project may be presented as a dissertation (an academic essay) of 12,000 words. However, the dissertation can also be presented as a creative project, for example as an exhibition with a shorter accompanying essay, an event or a project proposal. It could also involve professional work with museum, gallery or a cultural institution.
Choose five modules from:
Art Museums and Contemporary Culture
Students on this module are taught by the curators at Tate Modern and Tate Britain and discover how different specialisms contribute to the work of a world leading art museum. Specific topics include: how curators research and create temporary exhibitions and public programmes; how the permanent collection is displayed through different approaches; the role of fundraising and income generating departments; how the museum’s website is designed and its digital presence is managed; and how the museum conducts visitor research and works with diverse audiences around the UK. Students also study the significance of art museums and why they play an important role within the contemporary art world.
Collecting Today: Curating, Presenting and Managing Collections
Collections lie at the heart of a museum and they often shape the development of the institution. Collecting strategies and policies are developed over time by museums to enable them to plan their acquisitions for the future and to manage their resources. This module is taught at the Museum of London and each session takes a case study to a different aspect of museum collections. Students will examine the journey that an object takes from being proposed by curators to acceptance into a collection, conservation and storage. It looks at different approaches to collecting from archeological excavations to collecting contemporary life through clothing, photographs, printed material. We consider the role of contemporary media, oral histories and collecting with community participants.
Curating Contemporary Art
On this module you will learn the skills and practical steps involved in curating exhibitions in the contemporary arts. You will be introduced to contemporary theories about the role and function of the curator in arts practice. The classes combine practical exercises in researching, planning and developing curatorial projects with visits to galleries and art events. You will learn how to critique and discuss exhibition practice in galleries and also in alternative spaces such as art in public places. You will develop an exhibition proposal as the main piece of coursework.
Education, Learning and Events
On this module students discover the diverse approaches to education and learning within the museums and arts sector. The module is taught with specialists from a range of museums and galleries, for example the Royal Academy and the Science Museum. The module shows how education and learning covers many forms including workshops with schools and colleges to interpretation materials such as visitor guides. It explores the importance of public events from talks and discussions to late night openings to special performances. Students learn how education, learning and events programmes are developed and managed and how all of these aim to help engage audiences with a museum or gallery’s mission, collections or exhibitions.
Exhibiting Photography looks at different approaches to presenting photography from national museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, to commercial galleries and not for profit art fairs. Students learn about the range of contexts in which photography is exhibited, from group shows around a specific theme to solo artist’s exhibitions, from historical shows to contemporary work. It examines contemporary issues about exhibiting digital and networked images as well as new and creative approaches to showing contemporary printed photographs.
London is famous for the richness and diversity of its museums and there are more than two hundred museums in the greater London area. On this module students examine the smaller museums that play a hugely important role in the cultural life of the city and museums often have passionate supporters and unique collections. Students meet curators to get insight into their working processes, how the museums are funded and how they work with their audiences. The museums range from local history museums, museums that have small specialist collections (such as The Garden Museum), museums associated with historic houses (such as the Charles Dickens House), and museums that are part of institutions like hospitals (like the Florence Nightingale Museum).
This module examines how museums develop their exhibitions and displays. It shows that a museum tells multiple stories which demonstrate which operate on many levels and represent different forms of knowledge. This module looks in detail at the galleries and displays of the Museum of London and it is taught onsite at the museum. In each session a curator will present their individual approach to curating to explore different subject areas, such as archaeology, contemporary history or fashion and reveal the challenges in selecting and interpreting material for exhibition. You will also look at the background to museum exhibitions, display techniques and how communities can be consulted in putting together exhibitions.
Online Museums and Galleries
The internet has created challenges to traditional ways of operating and new opportunities for development, and this module addresses how cultural institutions are using it. On this module you will examine how websites can offer multi-layered environments and enable different ways of approaching the collections. You will examine the impact of social networking and how this is used by museums and galleries to build communities and to work both on and off line. You will study the ways that museums and galleries work with crowd sourcing, digital simulations and mobile apps.
Representing World Cultures
This module examines the issues and practices involved in presenting non-western cultures to a diverse audience through visual practices and you will look at how representation produces meaning. Key issues explored include: postcolonialism; globalisation; the relationship between photography and ideology; the ethics of representation; the birth of the museum; contemporary roles of western cultural institutions; and audiences as citizens and consumers.
In this module you can gain first-hand experience of working within a professional context. You will undertake a placement of 110 hours (or three weeks) as a voluntary position in an arts or culture organisation. You will also submit a report about the job and the sector you have worked in.
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.
Length of course
One year, full-time or two years, part-time (January start available)
Central London (Regent)
Additional costs information
To check what your tuition fees cover and what you may need to pay for separately, see our What tuition fees cover page.
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Career Development Centre
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Visual Culture - why Westminster?
Social Sciences and Humanities
We offer an exciting breadth of activity across the Social Sciences, Law and the Arts and Humanities. We are one of the country's biggest providers of Modern and Applied Language tuition.
Modules on this course have been designed as partnerships with Tate and the Museum of London.