Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Autumnal Museum Day Trip

As we say goodbye to the summer and step into fall, I want to plan a Spooky Season day trip for people. The month of Halloween, aka October, is an opportunity to enjoy local and tourist fun by heading to Salem, and more specifically, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). The museum just opened their new wing that has three floors to explore, plus a garden to relax in. I happened to walk by with friends to see the huge throngs of people that were lucky to get free museum admission on this opening weekend.

New wing on right

So, from Tufts, you want to get to North Station. You could drive on to the Mystic Valley Parkway about a mile away from the university, and then head to Salem via I-93 N and I-95 N, or just I-95 N if you want the extra scenery, or you could even take the Lynn Fells Parkway. The parking at the Salem T station is M-F $5 and $2 on the weekends. The PEM/Mall garage is $1.25/hour, but the rates kick up in their primetime, so maybe public transit is the best option.

Or, if you are pressed for coin, you could take the train. Grab the 101 bus to Sullivan, take the Orange Line to North Station, and then the Newburyport/Rockport Line 1113 towards Rockport, and get off at the Salem station, which is a couple minute walk from PEM. So, now you arrive on a Tuesday through Sunday betwixt 10 and 5. Last time I visited, Tufts’ IDs got you in for free, otherwise the student ticket price is $18. 

PEM main entrance

Their Expansion page on their website wants to entice with their mission of “creating transformative experiences of art, culture and other forms of creative expression that encourage exploration, discovery and wonder.” Not just exhibit space, but a collection center will be completed—perhaps a future Tufts Museum Studies field trip could get us a BTS sneak peek.

The new installations are with the times, so to speak, and highlight key points from our courses. The Asian export art exhibit doesn’t shy from the fact that some of the pieces are originally purchased with illegal opium trade profit. It’s important for museums to maintain transparency and trust with their community, and there’s an added history lesson. Another installation is Figurehead 2.0 which integrates digital media into the exhibit and demonstrates new ways to connect with its audience.

Also, their PEM Connect Campaign aims to make differences in our children’s lives, and their children, and so on. They hope to achieve this through new programming but weren’t clear on what that includes. Take note, museum websites should be clear also because people want to be informed about what there is to do at a museum. We will cut them slack since they are still renovating through 2021.

Let us know your review of the new building and share exhibit critiques. And happy fall! 

Archaeology Lecture at Tufts

There’s No Quick Fix to the Gender Inequity in the Art World

The past few weeks, our blog has focused on what is a museum, and hopefully, you have a few ideas about it yourself now. However, this week I’m shifting my focus to discuss a new survey from ArtNet and the podcast “In Other Words” produced by Art Agency Partners. This survey recently revealed that despite the growing awareness of gender inequity in the art world over the last decade, the top twenty-six museums in the United States acquire artwork from female artists at the basically the same rate that they did ten years ago. So, what can museums do to change this? 

  1. Actually, purchase their pieces – don’t just showcase them. While highlighting works of art through special exhibitions has increased exposure for a lot of female artists, it is not a Band-Aid solution that can be slapped onto the greater inequities in the field. This study specifically looked at the numbers of works of art that were acquired into the permanent collections of these museums. Solo or group female artists exhibitions are helpful in many ways, like name recognition and visitor exposure to the artists’ work, but these shows certainly do not solve the inequities between male and female artists in the field.
  2. Prioritizing female artwork, particularly female artists of color, even when works of art are donations. Museums get some of their pieces through direct purchases, they also often receive them through donations. In this case, donors have a lot of control over because they are the ones purchasing and offering the artwork. If museums truly want to correct the gender inequity in the art world, then they need to prioritize work by female artists in their collection by setting stricter guidelines, or possibly creating a vision statement for the evolution of the collection to guide the acquisitions committee. 
  3. Changing who is on the acquisitions committee. By having new voices and perspectives represented within the actual committee that controls the new additions to the collection, the museum will likely expand the perspectives within its collection as well.  
  4. Deaccessioning pieces by white, male artists and using that money to purchase new pieces by female artists or artists of color.  One example of this comes from the Baltimore Museum of Art (pictured below) in 2018: in an attempt to “[diversify] its collection to enhance visitor experience,” the BMA deaccessioned seven pieces of art that it found to be redundant in its collection. With the money from these deaccessioned pieces, the institution set a goal to purchase works from both female artists and artists of color.  
Image from artbma.org

The gender inequity can be improved in the art field, but there may be some backlash or discomfort along the way. Both large and small changes can aid the process, but this new study has made it clear that new mindsets are needed to improve this problem in the decade that’s to come.  

To read more about the survey mentioned here, please see the ArtNet News article: “Museums Claim They’re Paying More Attention to Female Artists. That’s an Illusion” and the New York Times article: “Female Artists Made Little Progress in Museums Since 2008, Survey Finds.” 

A Plea for More Evaluation

Last week, Jennifer wrote about “what is a museum?” and this week, I’ll be jumping off of that by writing about how our visitors see museums and how we can understand their expectations. This post is basically an encouragement of more evaluation in our practice to better our understanding of visitors and their expectations of museums. While summative evaluation sometimes appears in the museum field, I think that formative evaluation is just as useful, but less common, in museum practice.

For the Tufts’ Museum Evaluation course this summer, each student had to formulate an evaluation plan to determine what visitors associated with museums and what the visitors expected to gain from their museum visits. My evaluation resulted in most people expecting the atmosphere to be quiet and contemplative while they observed old objects from afar. These answers echoed John Cotton Dana’s commentary of the museum in his book The Gloom of the Museum in 1917. This idea of the museum as a – well – gloomy steward of static objects has clearly survived, despite the fact that many institutions have wonderful programming and amazing, relatable stories that they tell.
Of course, in some cases, a reverent museum atmosphere might be the best choice for a specific institution, but it certainly isn’t the only choice. Institutions can also use evaluation with their marketing to make sure that their audiences know about the programming that already exists.

Mostly, institutions should be responsive to their surrounding communities, and they can use evaluation to do so. Specifically, formative evaluation allows the institution to gather information about the needs and desires of the community before pouring time and money into projects. Summative evaluation can provide useful information about success of the project in meeting its goals, but formative evaluation really provides the opportunity to set goals that are in line with what visitors hope to see. Formative evaluation also makes it clear that the institution values the input of their visitors because the organization is making a concerted effort to gain insight into the wants and needs of the people who it is serving.

My class on evaluation and my interviewees’ views of museums have encouraged me to incorporate more formative evaluation into my practice, which I have found to be incredibly useful, and I encourage you to do the same!

Weekly Jobs Roundup

There have been so many jobs this week. Here are the jobs for the week of August 17th. Best of luck, hunters!

Northeast: 

Program Director (Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT) 

Davison Art Center Registrar and Collections Manager (Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT) 

Development Officer (Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT) 

Public Program Coordinator and Lead Interpreter (Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT) 

Manager of Education and Public Engagement (Newport Restoration Foundation, Newport, RI) 

Assistant Registrar for Exhibitions (Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA) 

Director of Advancement (Concord Museum, Concord, MA) 

Engagement Manager, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (The Trustees of Reservations, Lincoln, MA) 

Museum Assistant Registrar (Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT) 

Mid-Atlantic: 

Director (National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC) 

Director of Institutional Relations (Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Washington, DC) 

Education Manager (Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Easton, PA) 

Director of Volunteer Engagement (Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA) 

Associate Curator (Regniald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, Baltimore, MD) 

Assistant Registrar (Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD) 

Curator of Jewish Culture/Judaica (The Jewish Museum, New York, NY) 

Assistant Curator (Japan Society, New York, NY) 

Assistant Curator (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum & Foundation, New York, NY) 

Oral Historian (Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art, New York, NY) 

Curatorial Assistant (The Olana Partnership, Hudson, NY) 

Assistant Manager of Interpretation (Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, DE) 

South: 

Director of Programs (George Ranch Historical Park, Richmond, TX) 

Curatorial Assistant (Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX) 

Art Collection Registrar (Miami Dade College, Miami, FL) 

Registrar (Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL) 

Director of Museums (Florida Department of State, Tallahassee, FL) 

Exhibition Coordinator (Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL) 

Head of Creative Aging and Lifelong Learning (High Museum of Art Atlanta, GA) 

Midwest: 

Executive Director (South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society, El Dorado, AR) 

Executive Director (Organization of American Historians, Bloomington, IN) 

Public Service Executive – Curriculum Specialist (Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, KS) 

Exhibitions Registrar (Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL) 

Communications and Development Coordinator (Oberlin Heritage Center, Oberlin, OH) 

Director of Development (Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, IL) 

West: 

Executive Director (Foss Waterway Seaport, Tacoma, WA) 

Executive Director (Coos History Museum, Coos Bay, OR) 

Managing Director of Education (Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, CA) 

Director of Planned Giving (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA) 

Museum Director (Brigham City Museum of Art & History/ Box Elder Museum of Natural History, Brigham City, UT) 

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