So, why museums? It's a question we hear a lot, in my line of work. The implication is that museums no longer exist in a privileged station of inherent value. What was once the pillar of knowledge and culture is now widely considered to be outdated and stale. At least, that is what popular culture wants you to think. Here are some facts, brought to you by the American Alliance of Museums:
My favorite fact from these info-graphics is "There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than all major league sporting events and theme parks combined." In a culture that elevates sports to a near religious level, this is astounding. Museums are more relevant than you thought. So, why museums?
For me, museums have always been a comforting, familiar space. As a child, my family would attend art galleries, explore science centers, and engage with history collections. I learned to appreciate their role as a permanent place of learning in my community. While school was boring and tedious, museums were enthralling. I didn't know I wanted to work in museums until I was in college. I started as a pre-Vet major if you can believe it. Through a series of upheavals in my academic career, I changed majors to Anthropology and I volunteered at my college Anthropology museum. I fell in love with that space all over again and I discovered a career I had never considered. From there I went on to grad school in Scotland, worked with museums in the UK and the US, and have developed into a museum advocate. I believe in museums and I believe there is a future for them.
Museums offer something increasingly unique. They offer tangibility. The internet has opened up a world of knowledge to us, but it is largely intangible. Videos and photos can only do so much. Being in the physical presence of art, of history, of science is a wholly different experience. It also offers a social learning that complements the internet community. Through the internet you can engage with people from around the world; in a museum you can connect with the people of your local community.
Increasingly, museums are utilizing social media, interactivity, and new technology to bring the institution into this century. They want to better relate to the communities they serve, rather than ask the community to remain the same. Issues of diversity, accessibility, and representation are at the forefront of the discussion for museum professionals. To me this signals a willingness to survive in this modern world. Museums are here to stay.
Why museums? You tell me.