Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring museums, ideas, and conversation

Month: March 2011 (page 1 of 3)

Wednesday Poll

One of the best ways to learn about museums is to visit museums. Lots of them. In class last week, several of us were remarking on how much fun it is to visit museums with fellow museum-folk.

And so, a poll. Would you be interested in regular, recurring museum visits with members of the Tufts community either to locations on public transportation or to locations with transportation provided, to include perhaps some kind of group lunch afterward to digest information and delicious food? (Second question: could that sentence have been any longer or more complicated?)

Please note: you can choose more than one answer in this poll. If you’re up for any wacky hijinks that might ensue, in fact, you should check all three of the first boxes.

Would you be interested in museum outings?

View Results

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Gallery Educator Position

Just a heads up for everyone: we just posted a time-sensitive great new job on the Announcements page for a Gallery Educator at the ICA. They’re specifically looking for a Tufts student, so check it out!

Gallery Educator – Institute of Contemporary Art

Museums in the News – The Roundup Is Ready for Spring

Welcome to our weekly museums in the news roundup.

Museum keeps pace despite changes and turmoil around the world (C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana)

Children’s museum goes for regional appeal (San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, San Diego, California)

Raiding the Creation Museum with peaceful pirate atheists (Creation Museum, Petersburg, Kentucky)

Riverside Museum in Glasgow to open 21 June (Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland)

American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale saved from demolition (American Airpower Museum, Farmingdale, New York)

Slugger museum showing Rockwell sports art (Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Louisville, Kentucky)

All the world’s a stage: British Museum to hold blockbuster Shakespeare show ahead of London Olympics (British Museum, London, England)

Director of British Imperial Museum fired over alleged plundering of foreign treasures (British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol, England)

Who am I? U.S. holocaust museum launches campaign to I.D. thousands of children displaced after WW2 (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.)

Polar bear Knut may be stuffed for display at Berlin Museum (Berlin Natural History Museum, Berlin, Germany)

Museums: Educators or Collectors?

I recently finished reading Thomas Hoving’s memoir, Making the Mummies Dance. Hoving was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1967 to 1977. He was a fascinating, polarizing figure, and passed away in 2009; his obituary in the New York Times is a thoughtful summation of his life and work.

Hoving had clear, definite opinions about nearly everything. I would highly recommend reading this book; it’s by turns fascinating, horrifying, hilarious, and charming. There’s something in there for everyone to like, and for everyone to hate.

One passage in particular really jumped out at me. Hoving had just finalized the purchase of a seminal work by Velazquez, Juan de Pareja, for the record price of just over $5.5 million, and his director of education, Harry Parker, was not pleased.

I told [chairman of the board of trustees, Douglas] Dillon that Harry Parker and his group would want to be reassured that the priorities of the museum were not changing with such an expenditure.

“One would think that the acquisition of such a world masterpiece is in itself the nucleus of the educational process,” Dillon observed.

But when I told Harry Parker, he flew into a rage. “I cannot believe this!” he cried. You have in one stupid stroke lost millions for this institution! I find this purchase inexplicable and outrageous and indelibly damaging to the museum.”

I chewed him out. “People don’t give a damn what the Rembrandt cost,” I said, “or what the Canova cost, what the Raphael cost, what the Unicorn Tapestries cost – all they care about is that these beautiful, powerful things enhance their lives. They are proud that the museum owns them. Someday you’ll learn that sure, education, outreach programs, liaison with colleges and universities, publishing books and articles is important – but they all pale in comparison to collecting treasures. Collecting is still what it’s all about. Collecting is why people come in the doors. The Juan de Pareja will be the biggest piece of education material you’ve got going for you. The point is – and someday you’ll experience it yourself – that you have to have the guts to reach out and grab for the very best!”

The meeting ended. Harry Parker left, his face black with anger.

The purchase of Juan de Pareja was almost exactly forty years ago. There’s a lot going on in what Hoving – and Parker – say here (or to be more accurate, what Hoving recalls them saying, twenty years later). How much of it is still true? How much of it do you agree or disagree with?

Is collecting still what it’s all about? Do museums exist to collect treasures?

Are these treasures the biggest pieces of educational materials that museums have? Do a museum’s objects have to be “treasures” in order to educate appropriately?

What else would you do with $5.5 million – do you think it’s fair or smart to spend that money on one piece of art?

(For the record, I very strongly disagree with Hoving in this passage; museums are educational institutions before they are collecting ones for me, but there is some truth to what he says. A museum’s collections – whether “treasures” or more ordinary objects – are its greatest educational assets.)

Lessons from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

I don’t know how many museums are unionized (I’d love to hear about any, if anyone has some leads), so the specific problem that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is facing might not have a direct correlation to museums – but other aspects certainly do.

Essentially, the orchestra’s private employment difficulties have spilled out into the public arena via that ever-popular venue for over-sharing, Facebook. Fans of the orchestra are up in arms; the management of the orchestra has made some bad public relations blunders (for example, demanding to know how many of the complaining Facebook fans had ever donated money…), and the striking musicians have set up their own Facebook fan page.

You can listen to the NPR story here.

What can museums learn from this?

Well, there’s the constant lesson that people keep learning about the internet: it’s public. It’s very, very public. That website you made back in 1995 as a stunt for your friends? Yeah, it’s still there somewhere.

Inherent in that broad publicity is a responsibility in two parts. First, be careful what you say out there. Just because the internet makes it easier to be anonymous doesn’t mean it makes it easier to escape repercussions. It also doesn’t remove the necessity of being thoughtful, sincere, and polite – a lesson the majority of anonymous commenters have yet to internalize. The responsibility for civil discourse in the internet age belongs to both sides, moreover – to a museum and its fans.

Second, be honest. Be transparent. Share with courage and emotion. If we’re moving into this brave new world of anonymity and computer screens, it’s incumbent on us to establish human connections to the people behind the usernames. This goes double for museums, I think, which are traditionally regarded as secretive organizations. I’m not saying over-share. I’m saying be honest and sincere about what you do share. Commit with emotion, and people will respond.

(Maybe a third lesson is don’t piss off your donors. For these purposes, donors also includes “potential donors” which is everyone from your elderly grandmother to the three year old who came to the family concert last week. Make bold artistic choices, not boneheaded managerial ones.)

Anyone else take anything else from this? Any other observations on online conduct in the information age for nonprofit organizations?

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