Reinventing the Museum: Take Three

Creating a New Business Model seemed to lack depth.  In explaining how to create a new business model, John Falk and Beverly Sheppard write that “change has always been a part of our world” and that “museums will ultimately be forced to reject the approach” that museum success is derived from museum attendance.  The first statement is obvious, as are many of their seemingly grandiose statements about formulating a new business model.  The authors clearly explain how to create and maintain a successful business model; however, they fail to explain in greater detail how museums will be forced to reject their client based, ergo financial based, model that rewards the amount of visitors.  If museums drastically change their business model, yet fail to garner high levels of visitor attendance, what was the point of changing their business model in the first place?  I feel that the authors cut their argument short of the most influential part, a deeper understanding of their final claims.  This article would have benefited from further discussing how a business model entails so much more than financial motives.  Business models work towards a goal, and museums need to work towards a goal that is based in individualized value and more meaningful education for all.  Most importantly, museums need to create a business model that values the individual patron.  Museums will surely die if they fail to garner much needed funds from their patrons.  Seeing as patrons will only frequent museums that have business models ensuring beneficial, meaningful experiences for their patrons, it is clearly in the best interest of museums to create a better business model.

Museums and Libraries in the 21st Century has great potential as an article.  The Institute of Museum and Library Services clearly sets up their argument; they intend to explain how to cope with the significant shifts in our economy, our societal needs, and audience expectations.  The pages of bullet points, while some certainly hold valuable information, read as a “How To Handbook.”  Many of the points are rather ambiguous and would greatly benefit from being applied to an example, or at least being linked together in written format rather than standing alone as self-evident bullet points.  Rather than simply stating that museums and libraries should “articulate thoughts and ideas effectively…use communication for a range of purposes…[and]utilize multiple media and technologies…” the authors should have applied there ideas about the need to communicate effectively to specific examples.  Demonstrating how these ideas have been implemented in a specific institution and explaining how the communication transformation has directly benefited the specific institution will surely hold more gravity for readers.  This real-life application can be applied to all of the categories.  It is one thing to say that museums and libraries should “apply knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills across disciplines in appropriate and effective ways,” but it is a completely different (and more beneficial) thing to explain how to implement changes that will allow libraries and museums to incorporate techniques that will encourage learning across multiple disciplines.  Real substantive, applicative examples would greatly substantiate the many ideas advanced in this article.

John P. Kotter makes up for the lack of application and depth in Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.  After explaining what he sees as the eight essential steps to transforming organizations, Kotter offers real-life examples of what happens if you fail to reach each step.  Kotter writes about what happens if an organization fails to create a powerful enough guiding coalition while trying to transform an organization.  By explaining what goes wrong when each step is not clearly met, not creating a useful vision for example, Kotter is able to reach organization members and organization leaders.  Organizations, not just museums, will benefit from implementing his eight step process because his process entails applicative examples of what not to do while explaining what organizations need to do.  This article serves as a great end to the text, offering valuable hope for those working in the field while serving as a harbinger of what is to come if organizations, museums included, fail to enact lasting, meaningful change.

Dan Spock makes a great argument for transforming museums to better cater to the public in order to survive in In Defense of Nostalgia.  He explains that history museums must create “highly personalized ways” for individuals to “experience nostalgia.”  He also illuminates the fact that people will be more apt to attend history museums if they see the museum and its artifacts as relevant.  He concludes that museums must accommodate the desires of the public by utilizing personal stories, allowing individuals to feel as if they are a part of the exhibit, and encouraging social interactions throughout the museum in order to survive.  Spock also offers great insights into the many roles museums are expected to fill.  Museums must protect, serve, educate…the list goes on and on.  Museums exist because of the many roles they fill.  Effectively run museums protect artifacts and successfully encapsulate history through lively exhibits.  Museums provide a valuable service to the community, most commonly practiced via furthering knowledge.  Museums are important because of the services they provide, this is the reason so many professionals are working to maintain, enliven, and transform museums.


Reinventing the Museum: Take Two

Many of the readings this week dealt with the ethical dilemmas museums are faced with in the 21st century.  These authors encourage museums to rethink most every aspect of their being.  According to the authors, existing laws have not sufficiently caught up with the times and museums must, of their own volition, strive to do the ethically sound thing when it comes to acquiring, deaccessioning, repatriating, displaying, and documenting artifacts.  The authors argue that museum leaders should feel compelled to act in an ethical manner in order to fulfill their goal to create “a society that respects and celebrates cultural pluralism.”  Many problems exist in the authors’ generalizations, particularly since ethics can be seen as a personal issue that individuals must contend with on a case by case basis.

As for repatriation, what happens if numerous Native American tribes lay claim to the same religious objects?  As for the museums, why should they be forced to give up valuable artifacts they have preserved for years?  How can museums continue to educate the public about the diversity that exists in this country if the only Native American artifacts that remain are seemingly insignificant (assuming, like the author, that tribes will only ask for items of utmost importance)?  If  the point of having artifacts in museums is to increase knowledge and showcase the artifacts to the most amount of people possible, how does repatriation serve those needs? The most ridiculous NAGPRA provision discussed in this article exists in the fact that objects, including human remains, can be retained “if a scientific study of national importance is being conducted” until the tests are finished!  How ethical…

The article discussing deaccessioning further delved into the differences between law and ethics in regards to museum artifacts.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that “over 90 percent of the objects in United States museums have been donated.”  With this in mind, I see no reason why a museum should feel compelled to keep artifacts, storage space is only so large and  museums can only showcase so many artifacts at once.  Rather than muddying the waters with further legislative and bureaucratic hoops to jump through, I feel that museum curators and collectors should have the right to dispose of whatever artifacts they so choose.  Museums cannot be expected to keep every artifact donated to them just because they have possession of said artifact.  If museums discard important cultural artifacts, they risk losing clientele and much needed funding.  How can true diversity abound if museums are tied down to numerous laws and ethical codes disallowing them the cultural freedom necessary to educate the public in order to fulfill their missions?  These sentiments can be ascribed to documentation as well as displaying of artifacts within museums.

As for the article on acquiring artifacts, the author clearly feels that “there are gaps in the law” that must be accounted for by ethical decisions.  I understand that there are problems with museums actively seeking to pay for illegally obtained artifacts; however, if 90 percent of artifacts in museums are donated, I feel that museums should be able to accept artifacts, free of charge, without incessant research into how the previous owner obtained the artifact in question.  As for items museums already have, I see no reason to return each and every artifact to its “original owner.”  The older an artifact is, the more claimants there will be for ownership based upon prior ownership, ancestral ownership, national precedence…  Particularly in regards to artifacts a specific nation might have “prior ownership” of, who is to say that that entity was even a nation when the artifact was created? Who is to say that the artifact was not legally sold or bartered to a different national group or merchant? Who is to say that this nation will be able to preserve it well? (This is not meant to be Ethnocentric, but merely a historical realization; many documented cases of political regimes particularly in the Middle East and and Soviet Europe have purposefully ruined religious and cultural artifacts that can never be replaced).  Who is to say that the museum currently in possession, possession is 9/10 of the law, is not using the artifact in its best manner, educating the public about global history?

The most insightful article this week was the article on “Mining the Museum.”  At first I felt that I should copy this article and drop it off at the Idaho State History Museum, but then I realized that “only with the perspective and creative resources of an outsider could…[any museum] undertake as self-critical and creative a project as Mining the Museum.”  Having experienced the museum this past week, I realize that the Idaho State History Museum clearly falls outside of this realm.  I almost feel as if the Idaho State History Museum should be kept in its current state in order to continue to show future generations what museums used to look like.  In any case, anyone looking to transform this museum better contact Fred Wilson and a few more influential individuals if they hope to have any success.


Reinventing the Museum: Take One

According to the author, social institutions, museums included, must evolve with society.  Museums must transform in order to to remain relevant in modern society.  The author lays out numerous claims about how to wholly reinvent museums so as to allow students and citizens of all ages to better engage with the materials in museums.   Rather than “causing a fundamental shift in the role of museums in today’s world,” I would argue that museums can easily reach a wider audience, capitalizing on the contents they already have because we live in an increasingly globalized, informationalized, digital world.

This books reads as a manual on how to overhaul the traditional system, which I find ironic because I always viewed museums as great because of the diversity they celebrate.  There are museums that deal with everything from the racist groups to the Holocaust, from the local company that defined the town to radical social groups, the list goes on and on.  Historical museums must display substantive history that explains the rich, diverse history of the people, the community, the nation, and the world.  Wholesale change in substance is not needed: individual museums have the right to display what they so choose.  What museums really need to work on is displaying that information in a better way.  To this end, the author has much to say.

In regards to creating a Constructivist Museum, museums must certainly cater to all types of people; however, to state that one specific type of museum is by nature better than every other types seems a bit ridiculous.  The author argues that Howard Gardner “had the constructivist museum in mind when he used the museum as a model for education;” however, Howard Gardner would have most certainly seen the benefits in a discovery based museum as well.  Moreover, Howard Gardner would advocate for a museum that reaches all of the multiple intelligences.  Society is full of many different people that think, learn, engage, and react in different ways; as such, museums must cater to all of those people, traditional learners as well.  Only a museum that engages all visitors in new ways while also maintaining historically significant contents will survive in the modern era.  Similarly, educators can work to reform museums all they want and incorporate community based initiatives, but the information must be presented in a way that will resonate with all types of learners in order for true learning to ever occur.