Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Museum Topics (page 3 of 13)

Special Tour Opportunity at the Tufts Art Gallery

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 bridget.conley@tufts.edu

FREE Event: Museum Conversations: Curating Data/Challenging History

Museum Conversations: Curating Data/Challenging History

Date:

Monday, April 11, 2016, 6:30pm

Location:

Northwest Building, B-103, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA
Free event parking is available at the 52 Oxford Street Garage.

Left: Fred Wilson Photo by Andrew Walker; Right: Laura Kurgan

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.

Co-sponsored by the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture and the Harvard Art Museums as part of the Harvard Museums’ Seminar on Innovative Curatorial Practice

Keep Up Those Connections

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.

Museums in the News: Shell and The London Science Museum

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.

Museums in the News: Debate Over the Confederate Flag Rages On [Part Two]

Today we bring you Part Two of an article by Claire Pettit, currently a Tufts student in the Museum Studies certificate 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. Claire’s examination of the role of the Confederate flag in museum collections is in two parts. Please check out Part One, posted yesterday, here.

Museums have not always been as inclusive as they are today. In the past, museums focused on cataloging the collections of wealthy men. They were exclusive men’s clubs and did not open to the public until the early 1800s. As Colonial Revival took hold in the mid to late 1800s, museums became places that reflected a simpler time and upper class ideals. The inclusivity and accessibility that many museums tout today was nowhere to be found. Today, museums incorporate accessibility and a code of ethics. While many controversial collections remain in storage, many others are on display and invite visitors to think about a topic that could make them a bit uncomfortable.

While it is important to be ethical and inclusive, museums also have to figure out how to handle patrons who may disagree with museum practices. In the case of the Museum of the Confederacy, many members terminated their membership over the controversy about the Confederate flag. Those who donated family heirlooms to the museum’s collection did so “believing that this was going to be a memorial to the Confederacy, and the Confederate soldier and the cause for which he fought.” As the museum’s physical structure and name (as described above) changed, so did its mission. This did not sit well with many Virginians and other Southern groups who visited.

When the community around a museum is unhappy with the museum’s practices, it affects visits and membership. This brings up a potentially difficult situation, because local support and funding as well as wealthy member donations have the power to sway the path of a museum. In the case of the Museum of the Confederacy, their mission now states that their goal is:

 

“To be the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War

 and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved

 and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.”

 

The issues and lessons to be learned from the Museum of the Confederacy’s dilemma about how to interpret the Confederate battle flag relate to the museum profession as a whole. How each museum decides to deal with potentially uncomfortable topics projects to the community and to the world exactly what the purpose of museums is. If museums want to be places like the historic house museums of Colonial Revival where negative history is ignored and replaced by with a halcyon glow around them, there is a decision to be made. If museums want to introduce an historical event from many perspectives, like the Museum of the Confederacy began to do, that comes with an entirely different set of staff training needs and visitor assumptions.

A museum event, exhibition, or program that gets visitors interacting about this encounter offers a chance to deal with different perspectives respectfully. Consider an event this past July. Leroy Smith, an African American public safety officer on detail at a white supremacist rally following the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina State House. As an older protester, decked out in full swastika-covered attire, begins to falter, Smith went to him and helped him up the steps to get some water.
Ultimately, and interestingly, the flag removed from the South Carolina State House made its way to a state-controlled museum. This is a powerful move, underlining the responsibility that museums have to care for such objects. Museums also take on the decision of just how to display and frame these controversial symbols within its walls. This is a big responsibility, bringing with it the potential for loss of membership and funding, as the Museum of the Confederacy discovered. Yet it also offers the possibility for engaging discussions and inspiring change. Education programs and programming related to controversial collections objects or museum topics can be a helpful way to draw visitors into the discussion.

In the words of South Carolina’s lieutenant governor Tate Reeves, “Flags and emblems are chosen by a group of people as a symbol of all that unites and ties the group together. The good and bad in our shared history, and all that we have learned from it, is something that ties us together.” There is a place for museums to take a role in mitigating controversy rather than avoiding it. There is still more to be done to confront controversy head on, dealing with negative aspects of history and using discussions to illuminate contemporary issues. The most effective service a museum can offer is a forum for discussion. Creating a safe space for the community to come together and navigate issues is a far better way to deal with continuing controversy. Difficult histories exist and ignoring them does not make them disappear.

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