Reinventing the Museum – Part III

This week’s articles examined the business aspects of the museum world.  While I understand the need to develop business models to adapt to changing times and interests, it seems too far to suggest that museums have to become more corporate in order to survive.  As others have mentioned in their replies, if business and profit become the only concerns, the heart of the museum disappears.  What then determines what is preserved for future generations?  History as it actually happened or a sensationalized, over the top version designed to draw more visitors/customers and money into the museum?  The move towards a more corporate model focusing on profits and losses presents a new set of problems that must be navigated.

The issue that must be first examined is how to better engage the visitor with the museum experience.  Once that has been accomplished, the museum can then move on to devise new ways of presenting information and artifacts.  The internet offers so many different ways to captivate an audience and draw them into the magic of museums.  Spock’s article offered an interesting approach towards embracing the nostalgia that many hope to find when they visit museums.  We live in such a disposable society that most people are searching for a connection to either their own personal history or our collective heritage.  That is a factor that cannot be easily quantified in a business model.

Reinventing the Museum – Week Two

This week’s readings offered an interesting examination of the ethical problems facing many museums.  The primary difficulty in dealing with these issues is attempting to determine what is ethical versus what is “legal”.  Ideally, the artifacts from Native American tribes should be returned to their rightful owners, whether that be the tribe itself or descendants.  Problems arise, however, when multiple tribes all lay claim to the same artifact or when there is no official, recognized group that represents the tribe in existence.  Do museums need to remove these objects from exhibits?  At what point does the educational benefit to the public outweigh the cultural traditions of the tribes?  If an item has no direct or easily discernible connection to a living member of the tribe, does it still need to be repatriated?

I also found the article on the issue of deaccessioning fascinating.  While all collections should be reevaluated in order to ensure that they are meeting the goals of the institution, I can see where problems could arise.  Something that could be viewed as having little to no value to a collection now could become quite a significant asset in the future.  On the other side, something that a museum elects to keep could later be found to be relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  Additionally, what if something a museum elects to deaccession is later found to be culturally significant to a group of people who demand that the item be repatriated to them?  Although I think we would all argue that the terms ethical and legal are very concrete, there appears to be a great deal of grey area surrounding them in the museum world that many people are trying to clarify.

Reinventing the Museum – Week One

This week’s readings raised some interesting issues. Admittedly, I had never given much thought to the level of engagement that museums offered. I have had the opportunity to visit a lot of museums in many different locations and I don’t know that I can pinpoint that one thing that made something a “good” museum versus what made another a “bad” museum. Some of my favorites have been the ones that encouraged a great deal of interactivity while others fall in line with the “don’t touch, just look” attitude. The “bad” museums don’t really share anything in common.  I think the difficulty that most museums face falls in trying to incorporate too much into exhibits and overshadowing not only the significance of the artifact or event that they are trying to preserve, but also overwhelming the visitor with SO much information that they cannot possibly take it all in.

Where the arguments in the readings were largely against the status quo of current museum practices, I don’t know that throwing the old way out completely is the best course of action. In attempting to correct the dichotomy between the temple and the forum, there seems to be a tendency to swing too far to the other extreme. Silverman and O’Neill note that there has been a competition between museums as tools for learning and museums as a means of preservation. It would seem that somewhere between the two would be the best utilization of a museum, but that concept wouldn’t include Black’s argument for museums as a tool of civil engagement or elements of the social participation that Simon’s article covered. Attempting to be all things to all people will inevitably leave someone out.

Sorry I didn’t get this posted before class yesterday.