Museums go International

New strategies, new business models

by Rebecca Amsellem (Author)
©2019 Monographs 228 Pages


Museums are increasingly developing international strategies to raise their profiles outside of their home markets. How can we define this trend? This book is based on a multiple correspondence analysis of a database populated by the results of a survey conducted by the author on international museums. The study reveals that museums fall into four categories regarding their internationalization strategies and can have two complementary international strategies: one geared toward economic profitability and one geared toward the preservation of heritage. However, traditional business models for museums are currently facing challenges from a decline in public subsidies, uncertainty surrounding private donations and stagnant ticket sales. The author argues that the internationalization of museums is having an impact on the historical models and is contributing to the evolution of these business models. Two case studies, of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK) and the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Paris, France), provide particular insights into the international characteristics and practices of museums.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Table of contents
  • List of tables and figures
  • General Introduction
  • Part 1 The internationalization of museums: stakeholder classification
  • Chapter 1 The internationalization of museums: scope, characteristics and stakeholders
  • 1. Why go abroad?
  • 1.1. Going international for artistic and scientific reasons
  • 1.2. Going international to adapt to the audience behaviors
  • 1.3. Going international for economic reasons
  • 1.4. Going international for cultural diplomacy
  • 2. What do museums export?
  • 2.1. Loans and exhibitions: activities based on the moving of a museum’s collection
  • Loans
  • Travelling exhibitions
  • 2.2 Intangible asset-based activities
  • Expertise
  • Museum brand and trademark
  • 3. Museum classification
  • 3.1 Superstar museums
  • 3.2 Museums and business models
  • 4. Methodology and investigation results
  • 4.1. Sample of individuals: the museums
  • 4.2 Demographic data
  • 4.2.1. Museum creation date
  • 4.2.2. Legal status
  • 4.2.3. Number of employees
  • 4.2.4. Number of visitors in 2012
  • 4.3. Usage variables
  • 4.3.1. Why do the participant museum choose to internationalize?
  • 4.3.2 Exportation of museum activities
  • 4.3.3. Types of international transactions
  • 5. An attempt to classify international museums: results of the MCA
  • 5.1. The “elite”
  • 5.2 The “innovative entrepreneurs”
  • 5.3. The “curator entrepreneurs”
  • 5.4. The “artisans”
  • Chapter 2 The internationalization strategies of stakeholders and the international museum market
  • 1. Internationalization strategies of museums
  • 1.1 The economic profitability strategy
  • 1.2. The “heritage” strategy
  • 1.3. Non-discriminatory variables
  • 2. Interpretation and comparison of stakeholders’ activities with regard to their progress reports
  • 2.1. Turnkey products: an activity prioritized by the economic profitability strategy
  • 2.1.1. International exhibitions
  • 2.1.2 International training program
  • 2.1.3. The franchise
  • 2.2. Tailor-made service: a product adapted to international exchange
  • 2.2.1. Tailor-made exhibitions
  • 2.2.2. Cultural engineering
  • 2.2.3. Tailor-made training programs
  • 3. The international museum market, an oligopoly with a competitive fringe
  • 3.1. The international museum market, an oligopoly with a competitive fringe?
  • 3.1.1. Heterogeneity and diversity of goods and services
  • 3.1.2. Different transaction characteristics
  • 3.2. Stability of the competitive fringe
  • 3.2.1. Reputation, the first barrier to the oligopoly
  • 3.2.2. Interdependence of the fringe stakeholders
  • 3.2.3. Breaking through the barriers
  • Conclusion of Part 1
  • Part 2 Internationalization strategies, new business models and new management models
  • Chapter 3. Museum Models
  • 1. Museum management in search of balance
  • 1.1. Evolving museum missions
  • 1.2. Sustainability and museum ethics
  • 1.3. Does “good” management exist?
  • 2. Historic museum management and finance structures
  • Public subsidies
  • Private contributions
  • Museum’s own resources
  • 2.1. The dependent model
  • 2.2. The privately funded model
  • 2.3. The mixed model
  • 3. Towards a new funding model
  • 3.1 A historic decline in public subsidies
  • 3.1.1. Public subsidies and positive externalities
  • 3.1.2. The state of subsidies
  • 3.2. Uncertainties surrounding private donations
  • 3.2.1. Non-substitution of income
  • 3.2.2. Optimization of business budgets
  • 3.2.3. Patronage abuses
  • 3.3. Stagnation of ticket sales
  • 3.4. An increase in museums’ operational budgets
  • 4. Short term palliatives
  • 4.1 Flexibility of opening times
  • 4.2 The deaccession of collections
  • 4.3 Abandonment of the scientific component
  • Chapter 4 Museum functions and business models: the impact of internationalization
  • 1. Evolution of museum uses in terms of internationalization
  • 1.1 Strengthening of heritage value
  • 1.2 Development of influence value
  • 2. The new business models of international projects
  • 2.1. Freemium
  • 2.2 Mutualization of production costs and gains
  • 2.2.1. A strategic alliance
  • 2.2.2 Mutualization of tangible and intangible assets
  • 2.2.3 Mutualization of staff
  • 2.3. The distributive model
  • 2.4. The externally funded model
  • 3. A necessary renewal of museums’ business models
  • 3.1 Internalizing positive externalities to prolong the dependent model
  • 3.2 The standardization of the privately funded model
  • 3.3. The intermediate stage: the mixed model
  • Conclusion of Part 2
  • Part 3 Case study: the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Musée des Arts et Métiers
  • Chapter 5 The Victoria & Albert Museum, an incontestable platform of the international museum market?
  • 1. Characteristics pertaining to “elite” museums
  • 1.1. A global position
  • 1.2. A renowned collection
  • 1.3. Profitable commercial activities
  • 1.4. A management model that favors international development
  • 1.4.1. A supportive organizational structure
  • 1.4.2. Strategic plan
  • 2. A balance between heritage strategy and economic profitability strategy
  • 2.1. Economic profitability strategy
  • 2.1.1. Contractual transactions
  • 2.1.2 Activities exported in a monetary economy
  • Twinning
  • Turnkey programs
  • 2.2. An international strategy of heritage
  • 2.2.1 The attraction of the international for diplomatic reasons
  • 2.2.2 Limiting traveling exhibitions
  • 2.2.3. Activities exported in a barter economy
  • Loans
  • The V&A networks
  • 3. The international and the redefinition of the museum’s business model
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6 The Musée des arts et métiers: an international strategy of attraction
  • 1. An economic profitability strategy of a heritage strategy?
  • 1.1 Products intended for exportation, characteristic of the economic profitability strategy
  • Loans with a contribution of expertise
  • Creating a demand by offering cultural engineering
  • 1.2. An international heritage strategy
  • 1.3 The case of international exhibitions
  • Diplomatic exhibitions
  • Exhibitions unsuited to exportation
  • Coproduction failure
  • 2. A strategy of attraction
  • 2.1 Attracting an international public
  • “Superstar” works, the magnets that draw international crowds
  • Digitalization as a method for developing an international public
  • 2.2 Artist residencies
  • 2.3. International networks and programs, new ways of museum innovation
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion of Part 3
  • General conclusion
  • Appendix - MCA Results
  • Bibliography
  • Cultural Management and Cultural Policy Education
  • Series titles

List of tables and figures


Table 1 - Museum respondents

Table 2 - Comparison of museums’ international strategies

Table 3 - Development of the amount of national museum’s own resources between 2004 and 2010 (excluding the Abu Dhabi effect of 2007) – Targets and results

Table 4 - Development of museum attendance in France (from 2005 to 2010)

Table 5 - Evolution of income at the V&A between 2011/2012 and 2014/2015

Table 6 - Musée des arts et métiers object loans

Table 7 - Proposition of an internal evaluation framework for museum strategies

Table 8 - Variables contributing to axe 1

Table 9 - Variables contributing to axe 2


Figure 1 - Representation of the individuals based on MCA

Figure 2 - The standard museum business model

Figure 3 - The dependent business model

Figure 4 - The privately funded business model

Figure 5 - The mixed business model

Figure 6 - Model for the external funding of an international project

Figure 7 - Evolution of net profits of V&A commercial activity between 2012 and 2015 (in £ million) Sources: annual reports 2012/2013, 2013/2014 and 2014/2015

Figure 8 - Geographical focus of the World Collection Program (Africa, Middle-East, China and India)

Figure 9 - Number of V&A international exhibitions (Quillien, 2012)

Figure 10 - Circulation characteristics of V&A International traveling exhibitions since 2011 Sources: annual reports 2011/2012, 2012/2013, 2013/2014 and 2014/2015

Figure 11 - Communities of visitors to the V&A since 2011

Figure 12 - Evolution of V&A international loans between 2011 and 2015

Figure 13 - Evolution of the relative share of the V&A’s revenue

General Introduction

“Like the Louvre Abu Dhabi?” Once again, when I explained the basis of my doctoral research, my current discussion partner mentioned the United Arab Emirates museum. It had become my own private joke during those three years of PHD study. “How long will it take them to mention the Louvre Abu Dhabi?” There are so many more worth referring to, such as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Pompidou Centre in Malaga, the upcoming Victoria & Albert Museum in Shekou… the growing number of spectacular projects would lead one to believe that the international museum market has just recently emerged. While art has always been mobile (Bydler, 2010), museums themselves tend to stay put. This research focuses on the internationalization strategies of museum institutions and the link with their business models. The link between museums and internationalization is not new. One of the first Renaissance museums, created by Paolo Giovo, an Italian who was simultaneously “historian, man of the Church and doctor”1 had an international focus. His plan was to create a place – which he named “museo” (dedicated to muses) – to house 400 portraits of the illustrious men of his time (Fontanel, 2007). He sent messages throughout all of Europe to collect the documents necessary for the realization of his project. Some time later, in France, the concept of the international was at the heart of post-Revolution museum construction (Ballé and Poulot, 2004). In 1794, convoys full of art work arrived from all over Italy to fill French museum halls2. Foreign visitors were captivated and envious of France’s attraction. The philosopher Herder actually wrote to the curator Millin: “How lucky you are to live in a place where every means necessary to the scholarship and study of the fine arts converge, and which will perhaps one day be the meeting point of every idea produced by our continent […]. Guardian of the refinement of the Ancients precisely in an era when so many things are oriented towards future generations: this is an exceptional time in the history of the human spirit” (Ballé and Poulot, 2004, p. 23). This international appeal placed France among the most attractive nations; the French museum model gathered together in one single place masterpieces hitherto scattered across the world. Therefore, the international scope of museums – reflected by the internationalization of collections and the export of museum models – is not new.

Nevertheless, one must notice that the official definitions of the word “museum” given by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) don’t take into account the phenomena of internationalization and globalization. The first definition proposed by ICOM in its initial statutes in 1946 defines the content of the collections: “The term “museum” refers to all collections of artistic, technical, scientific, historic and archeological documents accessible to the public, including zoological and botanical gardens, but excluding libraries, with exception to those which maintain permanent exhibition rooms”3.

Today, this institution’s current definition highlights museum aims as well as collection content. A museum is a “non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.” ICOM continues to mention collections in its definition of the museum, however this is an area of debate between experts. Some place a museum’s collections at the heart of its definition, like Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art: “Permanent collections are the soul of museums”4, and Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, claims that a museum’s collections are its main responsibility5. Certain experts go as far as to suggest that collections are a museum’s central reason for existing and that even if faced with no other choice but to close its doors to the public, it would still be a museum6. But this definition isn’t agreed on by all. Other professionals have called for the removal of the mention of collections in the definition of the museum. Paul F. Donahue, former president of CIMUSET (ICOM International Committee for Museums and Collections of Science and Technology), stated in 2204 the ICOM should be less strict and should expand the definition of the museum to include institutions that don’t have collections. For him, a museum’s first responsibility is to inform and to educate – not to preserve works. In the course of my research, I will define museums in line with Paul F. Donahue’s view. I consider a museum to be an institution, public or private, with an aim to study and exhibit a tangible and intangible heritage for public transmission. Conservation only takes place when a museum has a collection.

The proposed definition could lead in the first instance to a comparison with the cultural industries. UNESCO considers an industry to be cultural when “cultural goods and services are produced, reproduced, stored or distributed on industrial and commercial lines, that is to say on a large scale and in accordance with a strategy based on economic considerations rather than any concern for cultural development (UNESCO, 1982, p. 21). Both types of organizations produce reproducible goods and services, but their difference lies in the institutions’ respective purposes. Cultural industries aim to exploit intellectual property for financial gain whereas museums, in the words of ICOM, focus on “education, study and enjoyment”. Secondly, the definition could liken the museum to the center for contemporary art, which doesn’t have collections. However, entertainment, rather than conservation, is the main goal of the center for art. Again, the purpose of the museum differs from that of the art center because the latter aims for artistic and experimental exploration, contrary to the museum (Gob and Drouguet, 2006).

Let us return to the topic of “spectacular projects”, those Western museums that export with great fanfare their artwork, expertise and names. Media coverage leads us to believe that museums have found a new lease of life thanks to wealthy sponsors. However, government withdrawal of financial support from the cultural industries, the decline of private donations and rising operational expenditures suggest instead that museums have integrated financial issues into their development strategies. In every Western country, museum organizations have had to reduce costs while developing programs that will attract an ever-changing public and further the research of their collections. A new business model or “economic design” (Pflieger, Krebs and Greffe, 2015), aiming to reduce the costs of museums by pooling services and sharing expenditures, could be put in place to alleviate the difficulties of this environment – all of this, as will be demonstrated, thanks to internationalization strategies.

The notion of “international” was proposed by English philosopher and lawyer Jeremy Bentham in his essay “A Plan for a Universal and Perpetual Peace”, written in 1789 and published posthumously in 1833:

The word international, it must be acknowledged, is a new one; though, it is hoped, sufficiently analogous and intelligible. It is calculated to express, in a more significant way, the branch of law which goes under the name of the law of nations: an appellation so uncharacteristic that, were it not for the force of custom, it would seem rather to refer to internal jurisprudence (p. 296).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (October)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2019. 228 p., 13 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Rebecca Amsellem (Author)

Rebecca Amsellem holds a PhD in Economics from Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne (Paris, France). She is a French-Canadian feminist activist, creator of Les Glorieuses newsletter and founder of Gloria Media, a newsletter production company. She is also the author of Les Glorieuses: Chronicles of a Feminist.


Title: Museums go International
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