Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Category: Museums in the News (page 1 of 31)

Museums in the News: Missouri Historical Society

This past week, the American Alliance of Museums 2017 Annual Meeting was held in St. Louis, Missouri. This year’s theme was “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums,” a topic that continues to become more crucial to discuss than ever in recent years. Dr. Francis Levine, president of the Missouri Historical Society and the local host committee chair for the Annual Meeting, stated that “museums are very hungry” for this opportunity to discuss diversity and inclusion in the field, and that St. Louis was a particularly relevant location to host that discussion given the region’s responses to issues like these in the past. For the first time, this discussion was opened up to the public as well, in the form of a national survey of museum leadership and demographics. Dr. Donald Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American and a co-chair of the host committee, noted that the goal of this meeting was to encourage some real changes in the way museums operate with regards to diversity and inclusion rather than further empty talk with no action.

With that, AAM delivered a new award at the Annual Meeting this year, the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) award. AAM launched the award last year as a way to “honor and celebrate institutions of any type or size who advance the museum field, either internally through workplace programs and policies or externally with museum audiences and communities.” The Missouri History Museum was the first recipient of this award, a museum that has shown time and again its devotion to diversity and inclusion in its local community. Among other initiatives, the museum hosts their ACTivists program wherein re-enactors help bring  St. Louis’ history of civil rights activism to life for museum-goers, especially students and those who may have participated in the movement themselves. Sarah Sims, the director of K-12 education programs at the Missouri History Museum, stated that the museum also works toward diversity and inclusion through “the focus of our exhibits, making sure we’re telling multiple different perspectives and stories that represent every St. Louisan, and also through our programming,” of which the museum hosts about 700 public programs per year. In addition, the museum works to  train and support all of their staff in a way that reflects these standards.

As we think about how our own museums can and do promote diversity and inclusion, we can also ponder on an “uncomfortable question” that Dr. Levine poses in light of recent threats to cut federal funding for arts and humanities institutions and the politicized nature of museums: “Will museums continue to serve everyone in the future?” Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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For further reading, see the following articles:

Museums in the News: Museums and Inauguration Day

Yesterday, ArtNews published an article discussing the J20 Art Strike, a call for museums, galleries, theathers, studios, venues, art schools, non-profits, and artists to “shut down” on inauguration day as a way to “fight back” against the new presidency. The ArtNews article also detailed many museums’ decisions to close, remain open, or change their admissions policies for Inauguration Day and the days following and/or proceeding. This live list is constantly being updated as museums make their decisions known, and include museums like The Whitney, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, the ICA Boston, and the Guggenheim. Many museums like The Whitney have made public statements saying that “This is America. And we really need to express what we believe…It is our role not to let them own what we think of as America but to express what we believe is America.” Likewise, the ICA Boston has stated that they “believe strongly in the role of museums to advance discourse and engagement in a pluralistic society, and invite all in our community to join us in reflection and conversation on January 20 and in the weeks, months, and years to come.” Many museums are offering free or pay-what-you-wish admission on Inauguration Day as a way of welcoming all visitors into spaces of reflection and conversation, and The National Museum of Women in the Arts is even offering “Nasty Women” tours to visitors on Inauguration Day.

With the Inauguration just a week away, where museums stand in all this is a topic that is hard to ignore. What do you think about changing admission prices and choosing to remain open or close for the day on Inauguration Day? Is this a topic your museum has grappled with? If so, how was it resolved? Do you think museums should be making statements about our current political situation? Let us know in the comments below.

For the original ArtNews article, click here.

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Museums in the News: For-Profit, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars, and Fudge? Looking Beyond the Spectacle of the Museum of Ice Cream

Today’s Museums in the News Post comes to you from Dominique Marcial, current Museum Education Master’s student here at Tufts.

In his article detailing the Museum of Ice Cream, which ran from July 29, 2016 – August 31, 2016, George Etheredge examined the thrills of the museum of Ice Cream for a millennial target audience, yet also pointed out more managerial and logistical aspects of the museum that open the conversation of this “museum” up to an array of concerns. Mary Ellis Bunn, founder of the museum, states the Museum of Ice Cream is a “temporary museum.” Therefore, one must examine the definition of museum to ascertain whether or not the Museum of Ice Cream is actually fit to be coined a museum, or whether it more closely relates to a temporary exhibit.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) defines a museum as an institution that is “organized for educational and aesthetic purposes… and it owns and uses tangible objects and exhibits these objects on a regular basis through facilities it owns and operates.”  AAM recognizes both for-profit and nonprofit institutions as museums. The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) adds that museums can house either “animate or inanimate” objects. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) narrowly defines a museum as a “non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment.” Within this definition, the Museum of Ice Cream would not be considered a museum because it is a for-profit institution, and by ICOM standards, a museum must be a non-profit.  However, in terms of its for-profit status, the Museum of Ice Cream could be considered a museum within the AAM and IMLS definitions because they do not define museums as needing to be nonprofits.

Additionally, according to Catlin-Legutko, a museum that attains 501(c)(3) status “is recognized as a charitable institution.” The term charitable includes the “advancement of education or science and the erection or maintenance of public buildings or monuments.” The failure of the Museum of Ice Cream to attain 501(c)(3) status shows that the museum is likely not charitable, meaning that it does not contribute to education or science.Within the Museum of Ice Cream, there is also no solid labeling of facts to educate the public, thus deterring the institution from achieving non-profit status.  Being that the Museum of Ice Cream does not maintain a public building for its existence, this aspect would also contribute to the failure of the institution to achieve 501(c)(3) status. In addition, a lack of 501(c)(3) status also makes the Museum of Ice Cream ineligible for tax-deductible contributions. This raises questions as to why corporations such as Fox and Dove chose to contribute to this organization. If these corporations wish to donate specific pieces to the museum, the Museum of Ice Cream can consider the influences of larger corporations without having to worry about the ethics of educating and serving the public through the influences of large donors as much as a nonprofit might have to.

Another major aspect to consider in the definition of a museum is that of the collections.  According to Anderson, “museums are responsible for the acquisition, conservation, management, and deaccession of collections.”  All three of the definitions of museum presented in this post from AAM, IMLS, and ICOM, mention the purpose of a collection in a museum, whether that be a collection of inanimate or animate objects. So although the Museum of Ice Cream does have a collection consisting of plastic life-sized sprinkles, and a wall of plastic cones, it does not display these objects in a permanent space, as AAM requires.

The IMLS definition of museums gets even more specific with the amount of time a collection must be on display to be considered a museum. According to the IMLS definition of a museum, a collection must be on display 120 days of the year. Being that the Museum of Ice Cream was only open for 33 days in 2016, this 120-day requirement officially pushes the Museum of Ice Cream out of all three of the major definitions of a museum that this article explored from AAM to the IMLS and ICOM.

That leaves us with the question of what exactly the Museum of Ice Cream is, if not a museum. Perhaps a pop-up exhibit or show would better fit the purposes and display of the Museum of Ice Cream. The fact that the Museum of Ice Cream retains the word “museum” in its title gives a false premise to the public about the contents of the exhibit. The fact that the Museum of Ice Cream consists of almost no labels or information takes away the educational importance and the authenticity of objects usually found in a museum. In a New York Daily News article, about the Museum of Ice Cream, one customer claimed it was her “first time going to a pop-up show,” which in itself may say it all.

Link to “The Museum of Ice Cream is Sold Out. Here’s What You’re Missing”                    

 

 

 

Museums in the News: Crowdfunding for a Mummy?

Recently I read an article by the Huffington Post titled, “London’s Viktor Wynd Museum Is Crowdfunding To Buy A Mummified Head.” Yes, you read that right. A museum in London has started a crowdfunding page to raise £6,666 (about $8126.72) to purchase the mummified head of a Peruvian child from the Chimú culture (they’ve somehow managed to raise £1,391, about $1695.81, in a month). And that’s not even the worst of it. As you may know, crowdfunding pages often utilize rewards that correspond to donating certain amounts of money as an incentive to donors. Well, this crowdfunding page has some pretty macabre rewards. For £30 you will receive “Mummy Dust:” “a pinch of powdered Mummy, with a signed certificate of authenticity (At the bottom of the Mummy’s case is a little pile of powdered skin/hair/textile);” for £35 you will receive “The Skull of a Small Animal;” for £48, you can take “4 Drinks from The Cup of Life:” “Four of you may enter our museum, see The Mummy, sit down on a plush velvet banquette and be served The Cup of Life – a very special cocktail within a real human skull” (emphasis added, because ARE YOU KIDDING ME?).

Thought it couldn’t get any worse? It does. For a  £100 donation you will receive a pair of Victor Wynd’s used underwear…because what better reward for helping a museum potentially illicitly buy a child’s mummified head is there than “a pair of Y fronts worn by Viktor Wynd, with a signed certificate of authenticity”? And for a whopping £2,000 you will have the privilege of taking the mummy home with you for a night: “Drive The Mummy in Your Car – see if it breaks down, then take him home for the night. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend the night with The Mummy of Mare Street in the privacy of your own home. What secrets will he tell you? What secrets will you tell him? There is only one way to discover – support our campaign now.”

Now that we’ve all picked our jaws up off the floor, lets look at the real issues here. Despite the fact that what this museum, (or rather a wunderkabinett, as it calls itself) is attempting to do is completely and totally disrespectful and unethical, a Forbes magazine article also points out that in some cases it is even illegal. The mummified head in question has apparently traveled through multiple different countries Europe before landing in the UK, so the provenance is questionable which is a problem in itself. Additionally, the crowdfunding page the museum is utilizing is based in the US, and each of the countries involved have different laws when it comes to handling human remains. So, for instance, while it is illegal for the US to import or exchange Peruvian antiquities, it may not be for certain European countries or the UK. And even if it was illegal for the UK to import Peruvian antiquities and it wasn’t for, say, Sweden, then the UK may have found a loophole through which to import the head from Sweden.

And those rewards of human remains? Yeah, those are potentially illegal too. While there are no Federal laws prohibiting trade in human remains in the US, certain states do have laws against it. So, as the Forbes article states, “a person in Louisiana who funded the Viktor Wynd campaign to the tune of £43 would be breaking the law to accept the human bone ‘reward’ (and potentially fined $5,000 with up to a year in jail), but a person living in another state or country might not be.” What does this mean for the US-based crowdfunding site the Viktor Wynd Museum is using? They have a clause in their terms and conditions that states “Campaign Owners are not permitted to offer or provide any of the following as a Perk: […] any items (a) prohibited by applicable law to possess or distribute, (b) that would violate applicable law if distributed…” (emphasis added). These are pretty general terms considering the variety of different laws that prohibit the exchange and possession of human remains in the US, but it appears that as of yesterday the crowdfunding site has asked the museum to clarify the origins of the mummy and to stop offering human remains as rewards. As of today, nothing appears to have changed on the site.

Whew. So to recap, here are the main issues:

  1. The mummified head has unclear provenance which is an immediate red flag.
  2. Importing the mummy may or may not be illegal (but is certainly unethical given the circumstances).
  3. The ‘rewards’ being offered are also potentially illegal in some states and countries, and definitely a gray area for the host crowdfunding site.
  4. Used underwear. Enough said.

Joking aside, this is a serious ethical issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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For the Huffington Post article, click here.
For the Forbes article, click here.
For the crowdfunding page, click here.

Museums in the News: Columbus Day vs Indigenous People’s Day

With Columbus Day around the corner, it is interesting to note where museums stand on the Columbus Day vs Indigenous People’s Day debate. Some museums, like the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of the Rockies have decided to forgo celebrating Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous People’s Day. The idea behind the movement is that American Indian history is not acknowledged nearly as much as it should be in traditional American history, and instead of celebrating Christopher Columbus’s conquest we should be recognizing the impact that those actions have had and still have on indigenous peoples (for more information on the movement, check out this article). Yet some museums choose not to engage entirely with this dialogue, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. According to their website, the museum is doing nothing to celebrate either Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day. On their Facebook page, however, the museum has been sharing news about different cities adopting Indigenous People’s Day and have been met with mixed reviews in the comments section. Some people argue we should acknowledge indigenous people, others say “like it or not, we wouldn’t be here without [Christopher Columbus]” or “why can’t we have both?”

What do you think? Should museums take a stand on this issue, even if that museum does not formally deal with indigenous history? If so, what stance should they make? Or should they remain  neutral, and say nothing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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