Looking at museums from a business perspective is crucial to understanding the role that museum and other historic entities will play in the twenty-first century. Not having a business background I really appreciated the way that the articles for this week presented business concepts and models in a way that was very straightforward and relatable. Since most museums are considered non-profit organizations, many people do not think of museums in business terms, but rather in terms of what a museum can bring to a community or in terms of the importance and relevance of the artifacts. While this might be an understandable perspective for the general public, I found it rather shocking that in some instances professionals working with museums have yet to understand the importance of looking at a museum as a business. In the article, “Creating a New Business Model,” authors John Flak and Beverly Sheppard attempt to define the term business model and explain the importance of business models for museums. Within this article, however, they also explain with urgency that museums need to shift their perspective to include a more business-minded understanding of their role in the larger business world. Flak and Sheppard explain that, “nonprofits, like museums, have business models just as certainly as do for-profits; it’s just that they are not always aware of it” (p. 380). This example works as proof that museums need to reexamine their position as a business in order to ensure the continued existence and presence of museums as a necessary piece of a thriving community.
As I began to search the Center for the Future of Museums blog, I tried to keep the idea of business models in the back of my head. As I searched I came across a post from January 17, 2013, titled, “For Your Financial Radar: Social Impact Investing.” I found this post very interested and directly related to the readings for this week regarding good business practices. The blog post focused on a relatively new mode of investing that combines for-profit, nonprofit, and government entities. This type of social impact investing allows for different entities to enter into a project with different levels of risk and payoff options. Although some of the financial jargon was a little over my head, I did appreciate that this type of investing intentionally brings together groups and organizations from different sectors of the economy and any sort of collaborative effort will ultimately yield positive results.
I found this week’s reading very insightful and relevant to the current legal debates, concerns over ethical practices, and changing methodologies within the field of museum studies. I also felt as though the readings really complemented one another, thus reinforcing the significance and importance of each article. I was very excited to read the piece co-authored by Walter Echo-Hawk. Because I have had the opportunity to meet him and read his other works, I was expecting a very detailed and knowledgeable assessment of NAGPRA. After reading the article, however, I was somewhat disappointed. I thought that the article succeeded in providing a brief introduction to NAGPRA and a general framework through which to discuss and analyze issues of repatriation. However, I felt as though the article was extremely one-sided, examining this issue from the standpoint of museums, and that the article disregarded many of the current problems that the Native people still contend with as a result of NAGPRA. In claiming that, “we are confident that museums and native people will succeed in resolving questions regarding collections and enriching the interpretation of Native American life and culture,” both authors overlook the extreme controversy that is still associated with this piece of legislation.
American Indian scholar Greg Johnson has done extensive research regarding this piece of legislation, especially as it pertains to Native Hawaiians. One of the main points that Johnson mentions as problematic revolves around the legal language of NAGPRA. In his book, Sacred Claims, Johnson asserts that the term “cultural affiliation” is too vague and will lead to future confrontations between tribes and museum representative. Although Monroe and Echo-Hawk explain the ramifications of this piece of legislation, their assessment of the overall effects of NAGPRA fall short thus rendering their article superficial in many ways.
In addition to “Deft Deliberations,” I also found that Corrin’s article, “Mining the Museum: An Installation Confronting History” really resonated with me. I think that this is due to my recent visit to the Idaho Historical Museum. The instillation described in this article lead me to further contemplate (or dislike, criticize, loathe?) the obvious and numerous problems within the exhibits in the Idaho museum. I find it extremely frustrating and sickening to think that such innovative ideas, methods, and design concepts are nurtured and encouraged at some museums, while other museums deliberately disregard any new practices within the field of museum studies.
Although I took issue with the writing style and excessive use of passive voice within this week’s readings, the articles clearly and effectively outlined the multiple and varied questions and concerns that modern museums face today. Having had little experience working directly with museums I was intrigued to learn how museums are facing challenges of interpretation. I found the article “Changing Practices of Interpretation,” by Lisa Roberts, especially thought-provoking. By establishing a three-pronged approach to examining the changing methods of interpretation, Roberts succeeded in highlighting how museums are attempting to keep their audience engaged while at the same time acknowledging existing controversies. Roberts also alluded to the concept of interpretation as a “task of connection.” The combination of these issues made me question how private corporations contend with these changes in the field of public history. If visitor centers at breweries or other privately owned tourist destinations display exhibits recounting the company’s history, should visitors be expected to accept this version of interpretation as historically accurate? Or do visitors experience these exhibits in terms of their personal connections to the company or product? Are these public spaces held to different standards than museums in terms of expected standards/practices of interpretation?