The essay 'Known unknowns: research on Irish museums since 2008' by Dr Emily Mark-FitzGerald was published in the latest Cultural Trends journal, July 2017.
In 2015-2016 the first comprehensive survey of museums in Ireland in a decade - the Irish Museums Survey 2016 - was undertaken as a collaborative project between the School of Art History and Cultural Policy, University College Dublin, and the Irish Museums Association.
Since the Republic's economic collapse in 2008 and the recession, museums have weathered significant shifts in governance and board structures, and drastic cutbacks that have affected programmes, staffing, and provision across the island. Yet, until recently we have not had an accurate picture of the "state of play" for Irish museums, hampering efforts to prioritise actions for museum support organisations, and preventing individual institutions to develop their own plans of advancement benchmarked against national data. Consequently, there has been a significant knowledge gap concerning the current state of Irish museums, stretching beyond the anecdotal, and bridging the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
This essay addresses the major findings of the Irish Museums Survey 2016, contextualised within the landscape of recent research on museums in the Republic and the North, and existing research infrastructures. In reviewing forms of museum provision and policy in both jurisdictions, it argues that the haphazard nature of data collection and the worrying findings of some aspects of the 2016 Survey require the enhancement of an all-island research culture, audit of national collections and institutions, and development of improved strategic planning for museums.
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