Gathering of Strangers

Why Museums Matter


A powerful, timely and thought-provoking exploration of the transformative role of the museum – and of art – in society today.

This book is not yet published, but will be available from August 2024.

ISBN: 9781849769136 Category:

Maria Balshaw


‘Public institutions do not sit “outside” society, they are the barometer of time and place. How museums and galleries open themselves up to change and engage dissenting voices is not obvious or easy, but as a recent visitor said, “Art is an invitation to a conversation” – so perhaps our role might be to unlock that conversation.’As the world adapts to the consequences of a global pandemic, museums continue to experience unprecedented disruption and change. At the same time, there is a growing debate and dissent over what museums are for, who they speak to and what the histories, objects and ideas they are tasked with holding reflect – all taking place within a public sphere that feels increasingly dynamic and volatile.

Taking a wide-ranging and thought-provoking look at the roles and responsibilities of some of our most well-known and best-loved public institutions, Gathering of Strangers explores the critical challenges and opportunities for the museum at this point in the twenty-first century. Moving from the historical origins of the gallery to important current debates taking place around art and public engagement, the climate emergency, race equality and decolonisation, and the value of the arts in education – this book sets out the role of art and artists in imagining and shaping our collective future.

It is also a love letter to the museum, from a sector leader who is at the forefront of the cultural conversation today.

Additional information

Weight 300 g
Dimensions 13.5 x 21.5 cm
Publisher name Tate Publishing
Publication date 6 August 2024
Number of pages
Format Hardback
Dimensions 13.5 x 21.5 cm
Weight 300 g


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Maria Balshaw is Director of Tate. Previously, she was Director of the Whitworth, University of Manchester; Director of Manchester City Galleries; and Director of Culture for Manchester City Council. Maria is Chair of the National Museum Directors' Council and is a Trustee of the Factory International Board in Manchester. She is also a member of the Women Leaders in Museums Network and a member of the Bizot group of leading global museums. In 2015, she was awarded a CBE for services to the arts.