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Fishin’ for Tourist Dollars: Museums in the News

Today’s New York Times reports that a spanking new museum, Go Fish, is reaping criticism. Some residents think that the 14 million dollar institution in Georgia is a boondoogle; an out-of-scale extravagance for a poor state during a recession. Others defend the museum, explaining that it was built to lure tourism and lucrative fishing competitions (which had previously ignored Georgia)… and it is working.

This new museum reveals some of the underbelly tensions in the museum world. Many museum directors spend time trying to convince state purse-string holders that their institutions significantly contribute to luring tourism dollars. Aquariums, like sports arenas, have long been considered economic assets, and some cities have built them for the express purpose of drawing visitors to the area. So is Go Fish any different? Would people be complaining if it was a sports arena?

But perhaps Go Fish does cross that shifting line in the sand of inappropriateness. Maybe it is more like the Creation Museum, founded on ideology rather than a collection or an educational mission. Would it make a difference if this museum emerged from a fish-related collection? Or if it was dedicated to exploring environmental issues in Georgia’s waterways? Here’s one more test: would you work there if offered a job?


  1. Gina Cerrito

    Thanks for posting this article – I plan on sharing this with everyone in my department here at the New England Aquarium.

    I think a museum based on a hobby costing the tax-payers $14 million maybe less than a good idea. However, the museum has an amazing platform to educate the community about both their local ecology, something most school children are lacking in my experience. They can tell you all about the Rainforest, but have no idea what is located right out their front door. The Georgia Aquarium located in Atlanta is fantastic, however, maybe too far for some people to travel. This may be a great alternative.

    This museum also has the opportunity to discuss some of the “big five” issues facing the oceans like fisheries, and agricultural run-off which is creating dead zones in the Gulf which was happening long before the oil spill last year.

    Creating a visiting public that can use their voices outside of the museum to raise awareness and make change should be the ultimate of this project. Maybe then the tax-payers won’t get so hung up on the cost of the building but see it as an investiment in their state’s future.

  2. Amanda Gustin

    Gina, reading the article, one of the things that struck me was that eventually visitors would be able to fish from the museum’s stocked lake. I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it’s a great hands-on experience in line with the museum’s subject matter and a chance to teach about responsible fishery management. On the other – wouldn’t this be something like the New England Aquarium breeding starfish and then selling them in the gift shop? I’m really not sure which side I come down on!

  3. Cynthia Robinson

    Good to know that the museum has a strong education program, Gina. Your points also make me think that this museum may draw people who don’t normally go to museum, and that as you suggest, they may actually do something with what they learn. And Amanda, some of the biggest supporters of conservation activities are associations of anglers and hunters!

  4. Gina Cerrito

    Both excellent points! It would be great if this museum could create a new generation of Teddy Roosevelt-type conservationists!

    I think the stocked fishing area would be seen as an interactive exhibit where fishing practices could be addressed. Most people don’t know the damage that is done from certain fishing techniques like trawling and long line. This could really open the eyes of visitors. Similar to our Edge of the Sea exhibit where visitors get to touch seastars to understand that they are local. Making connections to the local environment can have a huge impact when trying to save the planet:)

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