Ferguson & Museums

Q1: Should museums be involved in current politics/movements & should they be taking a stance? If so, in what ways?

This week’s readings are difficult to respond to because they are just so easy to agree with. If I’m remembering correctly, the goal of early museums was to strengthen the community, promote deeper thought, and encourage civic engagement. As women and people of color have started to become more equal participants in our society, this early museum goal should simply extend to include them.

Additionally, I agree that museum employees should seek to create meaningful relationships in their community, not just crawl out of the woodwork whenever it becomes convenient and marketable to support minority groups. The advice that museum management should strongly encourage their employees to spend time volunteering is fantastic. The time spent building camaraderie within the community will undoubtedly pay for itself tenfold.

I wonder how much the educational requirement of working in public history (i.e. requiring advanced degrees) hinders our ability to truly become democratic institutions within the community. As it stands now, the situation is tied deeply to economic privilege and creates a top-down power dynamic.

Q2: If they want to address current politics without taking a stance what would a neutral version of interpretation look like?

A neutral interpretation would be a nearly impossible challenge. Perhaps, poising two sides of the argument against one another in the interpretation and then leaving the conclusion up in the air for each person to determine for their own selves could create a neutral position.

Critics would still find a way to find fault in the interpretation. You would have to be meticulous in making sure that one “side” of the interpretation has an equal number of words and artifacts as the other.

Q3: Find somebody who’s arguing for museum neutrality/not taking a stance in modern times? Include a link if you can find one.

I was unable to find an article or link arguing this, so I’m looking forward to seeing with other people can dig up.

However, I think museums with really niche topics can absolutely get away with not making a stance about hot topics. For example, in my hometown sits the Cowgirls of the West Museum. While they could probably manage to tie women’s history and representation to Ferguson, their lack of funding and expertise on issues of race would likely result in a very superficial interpretation. A rushed interpretation might do more harm than good. In these cases, Craig Ferguson’s advice about voicing your opinion seems apropos. [Warning: Video contains cursing.]

However, this does not excuse niche museums from working towards a more inclusive overall story. The Cowgirl museum can (and should) still work towards including a diverse collection of cowgirl stories in their exhibit, but they don’t necessarily need to be front and center when it comes to Ferguson or other trending news.

If anyone is still interested, here’s the link to the mock border crossing I mentioned in class last week.

One thought on “Ferguson & Museums”

  1. Great point about niche museums. How much can we expect from them? They have limited funding and are often in small cities with a limited audience. I think they have an obligation to be as thorough as possible on their subject matter, but we can’t expect them to address every current social or political issue.

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