Museums have changed over the years, or at least what part of the public wants from museums has changed over the years. In Creating a New Business Model, Katherine Lee Reid is quoted commenting on the change she has witnessed within the museum in her own lifetime. She said, “Today the focus on the museum is on audience and the relationship of art to people. In my father’s day when he ran the museum, the focus was almost exclusively on the idea of art. This is a fundamental shift” (John Falk and Beverly Sheppard, pg. 379). This shift in how museums are perceived come to reflect the difficulties that present-day public historians face in the museum world. They must either adjust or completely change their business model in order to survive. The authors of the article explain how the outdated top-down business model common within many museums do not effectively take into count the customer’s in which they are meant to serve;this business model reflects the generation of Reid’s father. It is as the authors put it a “build it and they will come” approach (pg.382). Museums that take this approach may count on large or exciting exhibits to attract their consumer base; by large or exciting exhibits I refer to perhaps a King Tut exhibit. In contrast, they maintain for a bottom-up model to be used. Through this model, Falk and Sheppard argue that the consumer must be emphasized through a system that takes the interactions of all environments or pieces of society into consideration.
Public historians must come to realize that the environment that they live in is in a constant state of change. By using a bottom-top model, public historians are able to create a model that is more receptive to change. Like all business models, it must be constructed to fit local conditions and be supported by the employees at the institution it is implemented in. without support from within, the chances of a business model succeeding, or any model for that model, is poor. A flexible business model will allow musuems the ability to handle unforseen situations such as the ups and downs of the economy in which they can thrive or die in.
Such as the business model must be relevant to the museum or institution that uses it, so too must the the artifacts be relevant to the consumer base those institutions cater to. In his article, Dan Spock presents an argument for this relevance. If the consumer base does not make a connection with the artifacts, the museum has failed. Many museums exist in order to serve the public. They accomplish this through both successfully perserving the artifacts and creating exhibits that draw in the public again and again. This is no easy task to accomplish, but this is a task that all public historians face.
In the Legal and Ethical Considerations in Museum Acquisitions, the author, Marilyn Phelan, shows the reader some of the issues that Museums face when bringing in new works into their collections. From sovereign nation’s customs laws to artworks looted during wartime and genocide. Phelan mentions that museum officials have been involved, both directly and indirectly, in the illicit trade in looted antiquities. When I read this section in the book, I asked myself why would a museum official, either knowingly or unknowingly, participate in trade that many museum goers would view as both illegal and unethical? I do not doubt that there are a large variety of answers for this question, but I came to the conclusion that some museum officials participate in the illicit trade in order to maintain and expand their organizations collection(s). When an individual or group has amassed a collection of items that is both a sense of pride and accomplishment, that individual or group does not want to lose it. This relates to the issues raised within the readings, Jewish artwork looted during the Holocaust and the remains of Native Americans. There are laws that have been enacted that attempt to help the victims that have been affected by those issues. In some cases museum officials work with both the victims and the law to see that the wrongs committed in the past are fixed during their present lifetime. Unfortunately, in other cases victims walk away empty-handed.
Authors such as Phelan help to shine a light on the illicit trade in looted antiquities to their peers when they write on the subject. I imagine the entire process of proving rightful ownership, on either the part of the museum or other party, is both a long and sometimes difficult process.
All of the readings this week gave insightful information into the many struggles that museums are undergoing in the 21st century, but what stuck out most to me was the very last reading, Simon’s “Principles of Participation.” Her personal experience and breakdown of the potential participants, as well as how participation should be handled within a museum, really connected with me. In the beginning Simon describes the disappointment she met with the final exhibit where the museum allows visitors to create their video response. As she described most of the videos, they were not really worth much, if anything. I’ve felt this same way with exhibits like that. On top of feeling disappointed in the end result of the exhibit, I did not really care if I or either people with me participate in it. I think some of the issues I had with the exhibit came down to the impersonal nature of the exhibit. All you did was make a short video response, outside of that experience you gained nothing. This comes down to both a design choice as Simon explained, as well as how participation is handled, a major difficulty for museums in the 21st century.
In line with my thoughts above, the analysis of who participants actually are and potential ways participation should be handled was very interesting to me. This breakdown of participants into creators, critics, spectators, and so on shows just how much thought has to be put into an interactive exhibit so that hopefully a majority of participants can feel as though the exhibit was both worthwhile and that they and the community have gained something from it. When these exhibits are created, I imagine that one of the most difficult things to determine is the amount of freedom to give people. I know when I have a paper to write, rather the professor gives you free reign or narrows in my topic, I always find difficulties within both.
At the end of the day, many museums will tackle these difficulties of traditional and contemporary concerns in ways they think will be of financial benefit to them, as well as being beneficial to their survival in the community they exist within.