This week’s post comes from Jingya Guo, a graduate student in the History and Museum Studies program
As a new graduate student of Museum Studies so far, I can always notice shifts inside my understanding of museums. I’ve been to museums many times when I was in China. I visited museums with my parents, and sometimes my peers. We read written labels’ discourse on the provenance of an object, such as a hand-made wooden chair from Ming dynasty, then we received a bunch of information in terms of how it was produced and how its social context was according to the introduction of docent. We experienced this process again and again in a short time period, then we finished our museum visit. The museums in my mind were shrines containing works of art, I was cautioned against touching objects in museums, photos were strictly forbidden to be taken even though the flash light was not open. I hardly noticed people working in museums behind the scene. Museums were once temples for me to worship the beauty of great human wisdom. They were isolated from what I experienced in my daily life. However, I know something in my mind may have already changed, I am not only a museum visitor but also a museum studies student, which means museums will possibly be my workplace. The dual identities that I embody makes me think more about what museums are, and what museums mean to me. With the external changes of technology and globalization, it is indispensable for a museum to make connections with the outside world and stop regarding itself as a “temple.” Museums need to restart life at a grass-roots level and make it popularized to the public. Integrating museums into the community and making people engage in museum activities needs to become a significant considerations for museum professionals. It is the responsibility of museum professionals to make museums connected.
Why is it important for a museum to play an active role in community?
A museum’s nature and characteristics facilitates the need to establish a interactive relationship between itself and the society. Museums, as explained by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), is an institution serving for education and aesthetic enjoyment. The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) also demonstrates that museums maneuver to organize its collection and design programs for “educational and aesthetic purposes”. The International Council of Museums straightforwardly points out that museums should be open to public and render service for society and the local community. These institutions address the educational role that museums play and intentionally highlight the interactive relationship between the society and museums. The belief that museums are holy places, storing precious artifacts, has been doubted by many scholars. John Cotton Dana, mentioned that an ideal museum should reach as much of the population as possible and be in proximity to the center of a city. The reason for the existence of museums is for the informal education of the public and as a service to society. Although the nature of a museum can be modified by humans and may change over time, the consensus or agreement that most of us have reached so far in terms of the role of a museum is that it should serve the public so that it can initiate potential at a maximum level.
Another reason for building a connection between museums and outside world is the internal demand of a museum. The organization, administration of museums, design of museum programs and the management of collections in museums all requires a network of external contractors, the engagement of those who can satisfy needs of the museum and help them reach public expectation. For example, in order to gain public trust and get an understanding of what direction museum programs can lead towards, more and more museums adopt the strategy of crowdsourcing. To encourage people to participate in the direction or guidance of museum projects, some museums use social medias such as online forums to connect with the public and understand the public need as much as possible. In terms of collection stewardship, museums have to integrate visitors’ experiences, personal interests, and museum resources into the consideration of the management and use of collections. Museums’ own operations and the purposes of serving public cannot be isolated from the society. Indeed, it is the reciprocal relationship built between museums and the public that help developing museums and meet the internal demands of a museum.
What does museum’s connection mean to me? Why is it crucial for me?
The philosophy that a museum should be open to public and building connections with society has led to a shift in the role of museum workers. As a future museum professional, I need to consider the role that I play in front of museum audiences. Not only should I become a collection manager, or exhibition planner, or museum educator, but more importantly I need to take the responsibility of acting as a facilitator between museums and the public. The mission that museums undertake for informal education and public memory always reminds me of my goal, which is to engage visitors in museums and make them feel freely exhibitions. Also, as a museum visitor who does not have many impressive experiences and happy memories, I do not want visitors to have miserable and frustrating memories when they stepped out from museums. I want them to be able to relate their museum experiences to their daily life, and make museum a social space for family and friends.
To make museums connected, what might be challenges or difficulties for museum experts and museum itself?
What I will eventually encounter in my career might be a realistic museum working environment instead of the romantic picture depicted in textbooks. Many factors have to be taken into consideration for museum professionals. One thing is that we need to be cautious that outside connection will not negatively intervene with the administration of museums. For example, individuals like philanthropists who donate their collections to the museums or fund museums may want to have more say in affairs of the museum and to be involved in decisions of the museum’s mission and scopes. Multiple personal goals or interests may also be involved in the museum’s connection with the public. The other challenge for museum programmers may be in keeping a balance between the freedom enjoyed by the public and the application of the museum’s resources including money and time. Engaging the public into the museum experiences also requires certain rules in order to avoid the waste of museum resources and make the work of museum effective.
In conclusion, it is a long way for museums to transform into a paradigm that everyone may agree on. But the goal of keeping a dynamic relationship with public and connecting with the society should always be a focus for museum experts.