Prepare to hear awkward questions about museums and their future at this year's Samuel Drew Lecture in Whanganui.

Professor Conal McCarthy, director of the Museum and Heritage Studies Programme at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, will deliver the 2019 lecture: "What are museums good for? Learning from the history, theory and practice of museology."

Every November the Whanganui Regional Museum holds the Samuel Drew Lecture, which honours its founder and first director, and this year it's invited McCarthy to speak.

He is a museum academic who likes to ask awkward questions about museums. The issues that he raises are relevant to Whanganui's museum and its future, and its relationship to Whanganui town and region.

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"What do professionals do in contemporary museums, and why does it matter? What are museums good for anyway? Do they contribute to cultural understanding, help the economy, or improve people's lives? Are they containers of valuable collections, beacons of public education or agents of social change?

"Thinking beyond the immediate benefits of the stuff that museums contain. Preserving the past, appreciating art and learning about science. What do museums actually do in society? What is their role and function? How can we assess that impact, or measure the difference they make?"

McCarthy's illustrated lecture will consider these questions in light of debates about the future of museums, galleries and heritage - and who pays for them and why. In considering the question of value, there are many lessons from museum history and theory, in New Zealand and around the world, as well as current professional policy and practice.

McCarthy argues that more research is needed, not only on what is in museums, but how and why they matter, how those objects are collected, managed, cared for, exhibited, interpreted and understood by audiences, and why all that matters for society at large.

The Samuel Drew Lecture is at 5.30pm on Friday, November 8, at the Davis Theatre, Whanganui Regional Museum, Watt St. Entry is free and refreshments will be available.