Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

The Museum Experience

Now more than ever, museums seem to be striving towards creating memorable experiences for visitors. The pandemic necessitated the use of technology and virtual tours so that exhibits could still be enjoyed. Suddenly you didn’t need a plane ticket to take a tour of the Louvre or ancient Egyptian sites. Personally, I did not often seek these online experiences out — while of course it is incredible to be able to take “tours” of museums from the comfort of your home, it mostly just made me long to be there in those spaces in person and seeing the artifact with my own eyes. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. 

However, after viewing the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibition, “The Salem Witch Trials, 1692,” I was rather impressed with the quality of the experience. Of course, I still would rather have been able to go in person. But at least I could still view an exhibit that I had planned on visiting and feel that I had a pretty good sense of the exhibit itself and what it would have been like to have gone in person. I was also able to learn just as much as I would have if I had physically been there, as all of the text, artifacts, and art that were on display were available for the virtual experience as you “walked through” the exhibit. I felt very impressed, and felt that by “visiting” the exhibition in this way, I hadn’t missed out on any aspect of the visit had I been able to go in person.

Tompkins Harrison Matteson, Trial of George Jacobs, Sr. for Witchcraft, 1855. Oil on canvas. Gift of R. W. Ropes, 1859. 1246. Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Mark Sexton and Jeffrey R. Dykes.

Tompkins Harrison Matteson, Trial of George Jacobs, Sr. for Witchcraft, 1855. Oil on canvas. Gift of R. W. Ropes, 1859. 1246. Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Mark Sexton and Jeffrey R. Dykes.

Experiences like these seem to be on the rise in museums, starting with virtual visits like this one at PEM, but also expanding to include increased use of technology and VR experiences for visitors who go to the museum in person. For instance, the wildly popular Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience has traveled to numerous cities and advertises its experience, described as allowing visitors to step into the artist’s paintings. With 360° projections, use of virtual reality, and gigantic screens, the event is certainly immersive. I am curious as to whether exhibitions like this one offer much of an educational outcome for guests, or if it’s meant to simply impress with the quality of the technology and use of Van Gogh’s work to create an attraction. 

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience - Washington

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

Recently, I visited a museum that seems as though it is in some ways similar to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience. And it was largely used as an opportunity to get cool pictures for visitors’ Instagram profiles. The Museum of Illusions at the Walk of Cairo did have explanatory text for the numerous visual illusions that guests interacted with, and we were given a tour of the first floor to explain these optical illusions as well. The focus was definitely placed more on the experience than anything, and I definitely had more of a feeling of visiting an amusement park than a museum. The more interactive experience did remind me of children’s museums I had visited when I was kid, but every station served as a photo opportunity for a cool picture. Unsurprisingly, the museum’s Instagram page is filled with people’s pictures.

Ames room

The Ames Room at the Museum of Illusions, Walk of Cairo

It was definitely fun, and my recent experiences at the Museum of Illusions and the PEM’s Salem exhibition — while very different from each other — have made me more interested in these experiences that museums are advertising now more than ever. While I was initially skeptical, I think these experiences have the potential to attract visitors who usually might not choose to visit a museum exhibition, and can create memorable educational experiences for visitors to enjoy by taking advantage of the technology available.

What’s With All the Gay Penguins?

Ronnie and Reggie, two Humboldt penguins at ZSL London Zoo.

Over and over again, zoos and aquariums around the world are making headlines for their same-sex penguin couplings. One of the most iconic couples was Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins who began performing mating rituals at the Central Park Zoo in 1998. After successfully incubating a rock and then a dummy egg, zookeepers decided to give the loving couple a real, fertilized egg. Roy and Silo hatched a baby, a female penguin named Tango. Tango then grew up to form a partnership with another female penguin named Tanuzi.

Skipper and Ping, two king penguins at Zoo Berlin.

The list of gay penguin couples goes on and on and spans a wide range of species. Harry and Pepper were a pair of Magellenic penguins at the San Francisco Zoo. Sphen and Magic are a pair of male Gentoo penguins at SEA LIFE Aquarium in Sydney who hatched their first chick in 2018. Electra and Viola, also Gentoo penguins, are raising a chick at the L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain. At Zoo Berlin, two King penguins named Skipper and Ping have been trying to become fathers, unfortunately with no luck. Ronnie and Reggie are a pair of Humboldt penguins in London. In the Netherlands, a gay African penguin couple recently stole an egg from a lesbian penguin couple. The list goes on. Even in Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope hosts a wedding for two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo.

The lives of male and female penguins are not as different from each other as we may expect. Regardless of sex, a parent’s responsibilities are similar—both invest equally in raising their chick. Aside from reproductive barriers, there is no reason why same-sex penguin couples cannot be successful parents. Penguins often lay more than one egg, though only one is likely to survive. In captivity, a same-sex penguin couple can adopt any extra eggs (though sometimes they steal eggs instead.) It’s likely that this happens in the wild too—though it’s harder to say. Visibly, male and female penguins really only differ in size, and not by much. That means it’s difficult to tell male and female penguins apart and even more difficult to identify any wild mating pairs as homosexual.

Rocky and Marama at SEA LIFE London.

In late 2019, mothers Rocky and Marama hatched a baby Gentoo penguin at SEA LIFE Aquarium in London. This baby Gentoo made further waves after the aquarium announced that it would not be assigning the chick a gender. The chick is identified with a gender-neutral purple tag rather than the usual gendered name and color coded tag. Beyond that, the penguin’s life will be the same as any other penguin at the Aquarium. Gender means nothing to penguins, so why have we continuously assigned it to them? The General Manager of the aquarium, Graham McGrath comments that the decision to raise a genderless penguin is following an increase in conversations around human gender neutrality. I applaud SEA LIFE London for taking a look at their practices and making changes based on a more nuanced understanding of gender.

The genderless penguin at SEA LIFE London, identified with a purple tag.

Besides, the animal kingdom is constantly subverting our expectations for both gender and sex. Male seahorses famously carry the young while they develop, and are the ones who eventually give birth. Bluehead wrasses all hatch as female. As they mature, some develop into males. These stories should be highlighted more. Most zoos and aquariums stick pretty exclusively to scripts around environmentalism and conservation. While those are incredibly important topics, I would like to see these institutions branch out. For example, a common argument against LGBTQIA+ rights is that “it’s not natural.” Zoos and aquariums have an opportunity to step in and say “actually, that’s not true.”

We shall find balance

The theme for this week of My Home is a Museum project is Balance. The author of the idea is Anuja Jayasekara, he is a PhD student in Physics at Tufts. As many of us try to maintain a healthy balance of work, academic studies, self-care and social lives, I thought this theme idea was a perfect fit. Therefore, I encourage all readers to share the pictures and stories of objects which embody a sense of balance for you. Send a picture (or 2) of your object along with a short description to 

If you need a little inspiration, read Anuja’s story. 

5 rocks of various shapes and sizes stacked on top of one another vertically. The stones are in balance.

“I collected these rocks when I took a walk in the National Seashore in Cape Cod. I keep them on the top of my dresser and I try to balance them on top of each other. They stay balanced for a while and whenever I open my dresser to get something, they crumble down and I would have to balance them again. However, I can never get the same orientation of the rocks as before. But they stay balanced in this whole different way too. And the process repeats. It resembles the way of life. Doesn’t it? We try to balance everything but one thing changes everything then we try to balance it again. But it is never the way it was before.”



Revitalizing Historic House Museums – Testimony from Ann Atwood, Tufts Museum Ed Alum

If you’re still figuring out your summer plans, I’d like to recommend taking the Revitalizing Historic House Museums HIST 0289 – A course taught by Ken Turino and Barbara Silberman, which I took last summer. This course takes a deep dive into historic house museums: the challenges facing many of these museums and strategies to address them—including deciding if the most sustainable use of the house is not as a museum. I enjoyed the course and wanted to share some insights into why you should consider taking it.

It uses historic house museums as a lens for thinking about creating welcoming, community-centered organizations.  The course focuses on themes like community engagement, inclusion, creating relevant experiences, and management of organizations for sustainability. These themes transfer across museum types and are essential for the future of museums.

It stretches you to strategically think and plan at the organizational level. We worked through business cases in class where we analyzed documents to develop plans addressing real-world challenges faced by historic house museums (e.g., dwindling revenue, lack of connection with local communities, managing collections, etc.). This built to a final project where we proposed business models for how to use a historic house property.

You don’t need prior experience working in historic house museums. Most of my experience as a museum professional was in informal science education, having only dabbled in working in history contexts. I was able to keep up and learned a lot about historic sites, small museums, and how different aspects of museums operations interact across the organization.

If you’re interested in helping reinvent museums as welcoming, inclusive, community-centered organizations, please check this course out.

Ann Attwood (2020)

Is It Copyrighted or Not Copyrighted, That Is The Question

Since Valentine’s Day was this past weekend, I thought that a fitting topic for this week would be LOVE. LOVE is a collection of sculptures created by Robert Indiana (born Robert Clark), an artist from New Castle Indiana. The sculpture is of the letters “L,” “O,” “V,” and “E,” all capitalized in an old-fashioned, serif-type font, and are stacked together in a block with a crooked “o.” Indiana created many versions of LOVE for different cities around the world, writing “love” in their respective languages, each with its own tilted letter. The original sculpture that was produced in 1970 is currently housed in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Though the sculpture itself has become well-known by many, Indiana’s recognition is less renowned, leaving a bitter-sweet history between the artist and his work.

Granite Love Block Advertisement, as seen in the Terruso article.

What does LOVE have to do with museums or museum studies? Well, according to Julia Terruso in her article, “City Still seeking permission for LOVE sculpture design,” hundreds of people showed up to LOVE park (officially named John F. Kennedy plaza) in Philadelphia in 2017, expecting to receive granite blocks painted with a rendering of LOVE that they had purchased from the city for $50.00. Unfortunately, the citizens of Philadelphia left empty handed due to a cease-and-desist letter to the city by Indiana’s representatives. As it turns out, the city did not obtain the proper copyright or trademark agreements before selling such reproductions of LOVE.

How could this have happened? Hasn’t the sculpture been reproduced numerous times before and on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs? Yes, it has, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the individuals/organizations selling those products had the proper copyrights to the image.

To help individuals better understand the restrictions related to the LOVE case, Griesing Law published an article, “Let’s Talk About LOVE.” The article explains that under current copyright laws copyright of a work belongs to the artist/creator immediately after it is fixed (i.e. drawn, painted, or sculpted) in a tangible form of expression. In order for the artist to have additional protections the artist must register their work which would allow them to “seek statutory damages for copyright infringement.” Any copyright protections obtained by the artist last for as long as the artist is alive plus seventy years after death. Additionally, an artist can sell rights or grant permissions for use of their work. “These exclusive rights include the right to reproduce the work; the right to prepare derivative works based on the original work; the right to distribute copies of the work; and the right to display the work publicly.” However, just because a work is displayed publicly, does not mean that it is free to be used without the artist’s permission. When images are used in a commercial fashion, there is greater incentive for the artist to seek legal action. “In the case of the Philadelphia LOVE Sculpture blocks, it seems that express permission for this project was not sought because it was assumed that general permission from the artist had already been obtained. Provided the work is still subject to copyright protection written permission from the artist should have been confirmed, and if not on file, obtained before creating and selling the commemorative blocks.”

LOVE postage stamp, as seen in the Richman-Abdou article listed below.

This, however, was not the end to the copyright battles around LOVE. In 2018, soon after Indiana’s death, the Morgan Art Foundation filed a suit again Jamie Thomas, the artist’s caretaker, and Michael McKenzie, the founder of American Image Art (a New York publishing company), stating that Thomas and McKenzie sold works that were falsely attributed to Indiana. In return, according to Justin Kamp in his article, “Robert Indiana’s ‘LOVE’ is at the center of a $150-million legal battle,” McKenzie claimed that the Morgan Art Foundation has committed the greater fraud “by copyrighting Indiana’s LOVE design, which […] has been in the public domain since 1964.”  The version of LOVE that McKenzie is referring to is the original design that was created by Indiana in 1964 for a Christmas card produced by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  According to the previous version of the Copyright Act, artists did not have automatic copyright to their work. Indiana, not knowing about copyright law at the time, did not seek copyright protections until he produced the sculptures. Therefore, there was a period of time in which LOVE was in the public domain.

Understanding copyright laws can be complicated – and we haven’t even touched on Trademarks. However, if any lesson is to be learned from this story of LOVE, it is that if museums and institutions that wish to use the works in their collections for more than display, it is better to confirm what rights you have than to settle lawsuits later. Additionally, artists should educate themselves on the current copyright laws so that they can be sure they have the proper protections in place for their works.

Want to learn more about the history of LOVE? Check out these links:

« Older posts

Spam prevention powered by Akismet