Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Alexandra M. Harter (page 2 of 3)

Rising to the Challenge of Economic Hardship

As I was scrolling through some news articles about museums on my phone, I came across an interesting article about how the Musée Rodin in Paris is using revenue from the sale of bronze casts of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures in order to decrease their budget deficit due to the pandemic. I was not previously aware of the museum’s decision from two years ago to dramatically increase the number of works that can be cast, a decision that is clearly benefitting the museum now. Initially, it seems strange to allow for the sculptures to be made again in bronze and sold to private collectors and other museums; however, this decision was allowed for in the institution’s bequest and Rodin himself stipulated that the museum has the rights to his works. This year, two large bronze pieces have been sold to a Middle Eastern museum, helping the Musée Rodin to lower their deficit to about three million euros. The institution has also set up an online donations page from which they have received 1,200 euros.

Musée Rodin

            What efforts have other museums made to decrease their financial burdens? The Museum of the City of New York is discussing launching virtual adult education courses that might include online discussions moderated by curators that are focused on New York topics. The museum is also putting the online programming it has released during the pandemic to good use: it has collected over 4,000 photographs and “Covid Stories” documenting New York’s experience of the pandemic and curators are now preparing an exhibition for the fall centered on this topic (using a previous 2018 exhibition focused on past epidemics in the city, titled “Germ City” as a model).

As this year's flu season begins, we reflect on the 1918 influenza pandemic and other contagious diseases the city has had to contend with.

Jacob A. (Jacob August) Riis (1849-1914). [Infirmary.] ca. 1890. Museum of the City of New York 90.13.2.322.

Meanwhile, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Germany is aiming to restructure the extensive bureaucracy within the foundation and perhaps even dissolve and replace it with a new foundation to manage the state museums in a more streamlined and concise structure. This would also allow for more budget autonomy for each individual museum as well as restructuring financing in order to allow for improved long-term planning.

Berlin's Museum Island at sunrise (imago images/Panthermedia)

            This is an extremely difficult time for all museums as they struggle to survive the economic hardships caused by the pandemic. Many institutions have had to furlough staff and cancel programming, and still some might not survive. However, it is encouraging to see the diverse and creative methods – and self-evaluation – that some institutions are employing in order to improve their economic prospects.

Job Roundup

Northeast:

Operations Manager, Massachusetts Air and Space Museum (Hyannis, MA)

Administrator, Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit (Wells, ME)

Communications Assistant, Boston Public Library (Boston, MA)

Curator of Music, Boston Public Library (Boston, MA)

Cataloger and Classifier II (Serials), Boston Public Library (Boston, MA)

Manager, Collections and Exhibitions, Rose Art Museum (Waltham, MA)

Coordinator, Financial Data Services, Museum of Science (Boston, MA)

Grant Writer, Plimoth Plantation, Inc. (Plymouth, RI)

South

Kress Museum Interpretation Fellow, High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA)

Audience Engagement Manager, Museum of the Coastal Bend, Victoria College (Victoria, TX)

Mid-Atlantic

History Coordinator/Museum Manager II, Prince George’s Parks and Recreation (Clinton, MD)

Midwest:

Web Developer/Analyst, Arkansas Arts Center (Little Rock, AR)

Exhibit Preparator, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum (Wichita, KS)

West:

Development Officer, Curatorial Exhibitions (Pasadena, CA)

Mulitimedia Archivist, Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix, AZ)

Curator, Young America’s Foundation (Santa Barbara, CA)

The Role of Museums in the Removal of Monuments

The recent decisions to remove various statues and monuments across the nation presents, I believe, an opportunity for museums to play a vital part in this reevaluation of our nation’s history and to serve their communities in a vital way. While public opinion calls for the removal of these statues, I do not think it wise to destroy these monuments or to remove them totally from the public eye. Rather, it is the museum’s responsibility to conserve and preserve these pieces – painful as they may be – in order to further the conversations that are being initiated. In this way, we may continue to examine and evaluate our nation’s history, how it has thus far been taught and engaged with as well the important moments that are happening now.

The toppled statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Monument Ave. in Richmond, VA.

I went to university in Richmond, Virginia. And anyone who has lived in or even just visited Richmond knows the prominent place that Monument Avenue holds in the city. With its lovely tree-lined cobblestone streets, Monument Avenue is an iconic part of the city; but it is also a highly contested area due to the Confederate figures that hold pride of place at various locations along the street. Some believe that these monuments should remain where they are as they serve as important symbols of the Confederacy and part of Richmond’s history; however, for many others, these memorials are a glorification of the city’s history with slavery and racism. Virginia Governor Northam has promised to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee although a court ruling on 8 June temporarily stymied efforts to remove the statue. Protestors have since taken matters into their own hands and toppled statues of Jefferson Davis and Christopher Columbus.

Richmond is certainly not the only city seeing the removal of its statues. In New York City, the American Museum of Natural History has made the decision to remove the monument of Theodore Roosevelt that has marked the museum’s entrance overlooking Central Park since 1940. The museum’s president, Ellen Futter, has remarked that it is the statue’s hierarchical composition that is being objected to, rather than Roosevelt himself. It is interesting to note, however, that the statue’s architect, John Russell Pope referred to the figures as a heroic group, while the sculptor, James Earle Fraser, remarked that the monument could even symbolize “Roosevelt’s friendliness to all races.” While this may have been the intention of those who are responsible to the statue’s placement, it is certainly not how it is being interpreted now, leading many to protest the monument and the decision to have it removed.

The “Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt” in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

It is my hope that as we are reevaluating the various monuments placed around the nation, that museums would take the actions of the American Museum of Natural History as an example to follow. Prior to the decision to remove the Roosevelt statue, the museum held an exhibit exploring the history and addressing the issues that the statue presents. It includes the many different remarks and opinions of museum visitors, which would surely lead to further conversations and critical thinking amongst visitors to the exhibit. With this very recent decision to remove the statue, it is my hope that the statue will not be removed entirely from public view. Rather, I think it would be more constructive to have the removed monuments considerately placed – graffiti and all – within a museum, along with information of the various nuances that the statue represents and encouragement for visitors to stop and think about the issues that the monument presents to them as well as their own beliefs and attitudes.

What an opportunity museums can have now to encourage these conversations and help visitors to think about the past in ways that they hadn’t previously considered. History is often a complicated mess that can be painful to think about. And monuments can be painful reminders of these difficult and complicated histories. I believe that it is a museum’s responsibility to help their communities to engage with this history in its entirety and to not allow it to be forgotten. I see the removal of these monuments as an opportunity to create a deeper understanding of ourselves, our history, and each other. It will certainly be difficult. But I am just as certain that it is worth doing.

Memorial Day and Museums Reopenings

I suppose for myself, as a History major, museums signify places of remembrance that offer more vivid understandings of the past. Of course, this is the purpose of Memorial Day as well, as we remember our service members and oftentimes hear their stories. It is only fitting, therefore, that museums should play a significant role in remembering those members of our nation’s military who died serving our country.

But what does Memorial Day in a museum look like in the midst of a pandemic?

Many museums around the country have already begun to reopen in some capacity. For example, the National World War II Museum reopened yesterday in a limited capacity, in terms of both a limited staff and a limited crowd. 25% of the museum’s normal capacity was allowed to enter and 82 of its approximately 300 member staff were laid off. The museum’s reopening required careful planning to maintain the proper safety measures: guests had the option to purchase tickets online in advance, social distancing was maintained, and cleanings happened with more frequency.

Other museums that were not in a position to reopen, even in a limited capacity, resorted to other measures to commemorate the holiday. For example, volunteers at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista, California painted the American flag on the back lawn of the property. The flag took 45 gallons of paint to complete and measures 137 feet long and 78 feet tall. Once it was completed, trumpeter Fred Ashman performed “God Bless America” and “Taps” as a tribute.

Wisconsin Virtual Commemoration

Finally, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison held a virtual Memorial Day ceremony. Many local politicians appeared in a video to commemorate Memorial Day: Governor Tony Evers held a moment of silence and Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Mary Kolar suggested that viewers pay their respects by flying a flag or lighting a candle at their homes.

A recruitment poster for the Coast Guard SPARs program. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many other museums have made their exhibits available online, as was mentioned in a previous post on this blog. Some virtual exhibits that are relevant to Memorial Day include the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s World War I-focused exhibit, “We Return Fighting.” The National Air & Space Museum offers an exhibit focused on Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II, while the National Women’s History Museum offers content on women who served in the Coast Guard during World War II in the SPARS program.

These are just a few of the exhibits and content that I found particularly interesting (I had never heard of the SPARS before!). Many museum exhibits have become available online during this unprecedented time for museums — and for us all — and this has already shaped the manner in which we commemorate holidays such as Memorial Day. So while it was definitely an unusual holiday, at least we are still able to keep learning and remembering and honoring the past.

Job Roundup

Northeast:

President and Chief Executive Officer, Mystic Seaport Museum (Mystic, CT)

Research Associate, Mary Baker Eddy Library (Boston, MA)

Collections Assistant, Haffenreffer Museum (Providence, RI)

Curatorial Assistant, Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, NY)

South:

Development Manager, Tryon Palace (New Bern, NC)

Chief Curator, International African American Museum (Charleston, SC)

Chief Curator, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, AL)

Deputy Director for Advancement, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens (Miami, FL)

Mid-Atlantic:

SAMA Altoona Site Coordinator, Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (Altoona, PA)

Director of Exhibitions, Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, PA)

Midwest:

Pleasant Rowland Textile Specialist & Research Director, Center for Design & Material Culture, University of Wisconsin – Madison (Madison, WI)

Community Outreach Coordinator (African American History Initiative), Missouri Historical Society (St. Louis, MO)

West:

Associate Director, Foundation and Government Giving, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA)

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