Martin Roth Symposium

Founded in 2018, the Martin Roth Symposium, named after one of the most notable museum directors, aims to honour his groundbraking achievements on behalf of the developement of cultural and social topics by perpetuating his ideas.


Interviews with actors in the international museum landscape, which provide an insight into current museum practices and civil society actions of museums worldwide.

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2020: MuseumFutures

The five-day symposium asked critical questions about the museum's future. It identified innovative strategies which, from a global perspective, are needed to establish a space of democracy through architecture, analogue and virtual formats, local and international exchange, and alternative international (art) histories.

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Day I: Museums and Futures

The first day presents a global perspective on the future of the museum as a space of democracy. It aims to illuminate the museum as a source of inspiration for intellectual, political and aesthetic discourses and as a visible architectural signal for the development of cities. The first Sprints and Deep Dives of the Symposium will offer regional insights in museum leadership in different cultural and political contexts, a historical view on the role of museums and raise awareness for the current technological challenges that the museum world is facing.

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Day II: Museums and Power

How inclusive are today's museums really? What is the role of museums as 'democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures', as stated by the draft ICOM museum definition? Are museums public powerhouses for society or are they left alone with provenance research, digitalisation and the processes of decolonisation?

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What active roles can museums play in modern societies and what are the limits of a museum? How political should museums be? How are the task of museums and their independence as research institutions shaped under the influence of authoritarian governments and ideological positions? How is the young generation to be integrated? On the second day, our speakers will discuss these questions concerning the roles of public and private museums in society and which stakeholders have to be considered when managing a museum in the 21st century.

Day III: Museums and Entertainment

Culture is about pleasure – why shouldn't museums be? The traditional discourse is making seriousness a criteria for cultural achievements and denies to which extent pleasure, playfulness and entertainment are important to build public spaces and cultural treasures. How can the social space of the institution and the exhibition spaces of the museum be filled with life? Is enjoyment part of what museums must offer to the public? This day will unpack ideas and alternatives to these and other questions. It will challenge our traditional views of reality and virtuality, the role of institutions versus open spaces and finally the merger of art, science and entertainment.

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Day IV: Museums and Architecture

The meaning and function of museums has shifted fundamentally in the course of history – from the early days focusing primarily on collection, to today's concepts for museums emphasising exhibition and education programmes and developing local and global utopias of encounters and community. It is now commonplace to see museums as public spaces, but who do they belong to and how?

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What are the conditions and modes of access that best serve collections and that best encourage dialogue between objects and people? What are the options for showing materials that are stored, vulnerable or contested? Our speakers will share their ideas on the nature of space in our current museums with an eye on both the past and the future. What will it take to create spaces where the public and artefacts can come together outside of their familiar settings, negotiating relationships between the open and the closed or the local and the global, between the hauntings of history and the promise of utopia?

Day V: Museums and Failure

This day will highlight 'best practice in failure,' not as an oxymoron but as a necessity. This concerns praising the value of failure for self-reflection and as a motor of innovation for museums. What does failure mean in the museum sector? Where is the space to talk about mistakes and reflect upon wrong decisions in a 'culture' that emphasises positive news and success stories?

How and what can we learn from negative experiences and disappointments for the development of museums as open democratic change agents and conveners? How do we take responsibility for our mistakes? How can we share our experiences of knowledge gained through failure? Which failures can we afford? Do museums need a more enterprising, entrepreneurial culture that embraces failures? What conditions and values are needed in museums for productive learning processes, open exchange and a dynamic self-reflective culture?

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Conference Report

Giovanna Dunmall has summarised the highlights of the second Martin Roth Symposium.

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2018: What Can Culture Do?

Martin Roth Symposium 2018 in the Kraftwerk Berlin

The opening Martin Roth Symposium put the question, 'What can culture do?'. To give an answer, 44 international society and culture experts ressembled in the Kraftwerk Berlin to face more than 300 vistors, followed by inspiring and lively discussions with the audience.

Pictures and impressions of the conference | 2018

Statements, impressions and opinions | 2018

Martin Roth

'I am convinced, that art and culture represent an indispensible foundation
of a society of democratic and peaceful coexistence.'

  • About


    As director general Martin Roth (1955-2017) did make his impression not only on the Dresden State Art Collections, but the international museum scene as well. Thus, as recognition for his outstanding cultural achievements he was invested with the order of knights respectively by France and Denmark. After his ten years’ stay in Dresden he was appointed as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. There he lead the museum into a new era by opening the museum not only literally by the new Exhibition Road entrance he had added but also figuratively by daring to search for new ways to attract a broader audience and rethink the role museums can play in society. In 2016 after having returned from London he was unanimously elected honorary president of ifa.

    In honour of his accomplishments as museum director and cultural scientist and in remembrance of his great personality, the Federal Foreign Office of Germany instituted the Martin Roth Initiative  to enable creative artists and cultural mediators, who are repressed in their home countries a stay abroad to proceed their artistic and cultural work. Likewise, in 2018, the Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden started a series of lectures, named after their former director general, Martin Roth Lecture. Since then the biennial conference, the Martin Roth Symposium, has been launched by ifa and the Federal Foreign Office.



Rainer Koch

Charlottenplatz 17
D-70173 Stuttgart

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Funded by the Federal Foreign Office