Today’s announcement comes to you from Cynthia Robinson, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Museum Education and director of the Tufts Museum Studies program. Free to everyone!
Join a special tour at Tufts’ Art Gallery Thursday, April 14th, 5 – 6:30, related to interpreting violent histories. The current exhibition includes artwork by Marcelo Brodsky and Jorge Tacla addressing the legacy of violence in Argentina and Chile, in particular, and the tour will also include commentary by the Gallery’s Liz Cantor and Noe Montez, in Tufts’ Theater program. Dr. Montez’s new work is focused on survivor-tour guides at former torture sites in Argentina. He is exploring how traumatic history is performed for visitors, and he and Liz have devised a way to weave those issues into the exhibition tour.
If you’re interested, please send an RSVP to email@example.com
Fred Wilson, artist and Laura Kurgan, Associate Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, and Director of the Center for Spatial Research and of the Visual Studies curriculum, Columbia University
In this year’s seminar on innovative curatorial practice, Laura Kurgan of Columbia University and artist Fred Wilson will, from different perspectives, reflect on their work to reimagine how museum exhibits present information, often by juxtaposing the unexpected to create new insights. Their short presentations will be followed by a moderated discussion.
Public Lecture. Free and open to the public.
Today’s post was written by Ken Turino, Manager of Community Engagement and Exhibitions at Historic New England, and a Tufts professor. Ken is currently co-instructor of the Tufts courses Exhibition Planning and Revitalizing Historic House Museums. Here he offers insights to career development and shares stories from his own fascinating path.
Over the years, I have found networking to be a great way to stay in touch with classmates, colleagues, and Tufts students. You often don’t know where these connections may take you so it is important to keep them up. Thirty-four years after completing graduate school, I am still in touch with my professor, the head of the Museum Education Program at George Washington University and over the years she has served as a reference for me and we have co-written an article together for History News, gotten together at conferences, and socialized. These many years later I am still in close contact with several of my classmates (we rented a castle together in Scotland for a big birthday two summers ago). Over the years, we have offered each other support and advice. Some have left the field but our experience together has bonded us, and we have used each other as consultants for projects, sounding boards, and served as references for each other.
It is also important to keep up your further education which leads you to new contacts. In my case, the contacts I made while attending The Seminar for Historic Administration, led many years later to my current job at Historic New England. One of my GW classmates and I participated in the seminar and I became friendly with one of the faculty, Bill Tramposch. Subsequently, I had him speak for the Museum Education Roundtable in Washington, DC, and we kept up over many job changes in both our careers. I even visited him when he ran the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Subsequently, he came to Historic New England and asked me to come work with him to create an Exhibitions Program. Although I was director of my own museum, this was an opportunity I could not pass up on.
The point is these connections can lead you in many different paths but you have to keep them up and yes this takes effort but the benefits can be both personal and professional. I am happy to pass on job announcements, internship opportunities, etc. to my friends, colleagues and students. You should too. I have found our museum community particular warm and inviting. So go to the national and regional conferences and talk with people, keep up with your professors and classmates, take seminars and make new acquaintances. All are a great way to make new connections and keep up older acquaintances. It paid off for me.
Today we bring you an article by Christina Errico, currently a Tufts student in the Museum Education Master’s program. For Museums Today: Mission and Function, the foundation course required for all Museum Studies students, students research and report on a recent topic regarding museums in the news.
In December of 2010, the London Science Museum opened its new Atmosphere gallery that focused on climate science of the past, present, and future. Yet when Shell, a major petro-chemical company and one of the largest multi-national corporations in the world, became a principal sponsor of the Atmosphere gallery, company executives began suggesting changes to the gallery’s content which caused many outsiders to call into question the museum’s ethical integrity. While museums should be avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest, it seems that the London Science Museum disregarded this ethical code in order to preserve its partnership with Shell.
According to the 315 pages of emails between Shell and the London Science Museum released in 2014, Shell politely requested to be described as an “energy company” rather than a “petro-chemical company,” and, if possible, they’d “prefer the wording [in the gallery] not to focus on pollution and environmental damage.” The contents of these emails do not necessarily prove that the museum agreed to censor information in the gallery, but the issue with these emails is that there was no public transparency and no accountability for the emails by the museum after they had been released. The museum’s director, Ian Blatchford, stated in a blog post that “not a single change to the curatorial program resulted from these email exchanges.” Yet the evidence from the emails and from visitor reviews suggests that there is a very real possibility this is not true.
On Atmosphere’s “About Our Funders” webpage, Shell states that they are “working hard to build a new energy system while supporting a deeper understanding of climate science.” Yet if Shell was committed to a deeper understanding of climate science, why would they ask the museum to censor the connection between energy use and pollution, one that has been recognized by scientists, the public, and even the government? As a matter of fact, Shell told the museum in an email that a drilling company working for Shell “pleaded guilty to eight felony charges tied to pollution, propulsion, and record keeping problems with the two drilling rigs that bored Arctic oil wells for Shell.” Even after learning about this incident the museum continued its partnership with Shell, seemingly without a second thought.
While the central argument against Shell and the London Science Museum focuses largely on the appearance of a conflict of interest, the relevance of this issue for the greater museum community is that even the appearance of a conflict of interest can cause the museum to lose its public’s trust. And, sadly, this is not the first time a corporate sponsorship of a museum exhibit has caused a public trust issue. To provide two additional examples, Genoways and Ireland question the ethical soundness of a tobacco company funding a tour of the U.S. Constitution and ask whether “funding from pest exterminator Orkin compromised the intellectual integrity of a major Smithsonian exhibition on insects.” Substitute Shell for Orkin and the London Science Museum for the Smithsonian and one could ask the very same question regarding the Atmosphere gallery. If issues like this continue to occur, the risk is that the entire museum field may begin to lose the trust of not just their local communities, but the greater public as well.
Ron Chew, former director for the struggling Wing Luke Asian Museum, points out that “museums, as respected educational institutions, have the power to shape public opinion.” That kind of power can be wonderfully inspiring and used to great good, but it can only be attained if the museum is seen as a respected institution by the public. Museums like the London Science Museum can therefore serve as a warning and a lesson for other museums: if they are to have the formidable power to shape public thought, they must maintain, or gain back, their public trust and respectability.
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