Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 26)

A New Conversation for a New Year

What is a museum?

There’s a lot of ways to categorize them. Educational institutions. Tourist attractions. Repositories of knowledge or art. A place to bring the kids on spring break. One way that we like to think about a museum is as a community. The membership is a museum’s community, of course, but that is just one of many ways a museum can be a site of community. A museum can be a place where people gather, a locus that brings people together for common purposes. Museums can also be a member of a larger community, working to unite people and institutions around something bigger than itself, and reaping the rewards of that work. There’s a lot of power in that sort of engagement, and it’s something we’d like to spend more time thinking about in the pages (well, page) of this blog in 2019.

There’s a lot of ways to think about museums and community and we’re going to look at some of these in the next few months. Whether it is how Mass MOCA’s birth inside the shell of a former manufacturing plant is affecting its community in rural Berkshire County, MA, or following the progress of the Field Museum as it partners with local indigenous groups to re-envision its Native American exhibit halls, we are going to take some time to evaluate what museums are doing to create, strengthen, or expand their communities. We will also look at how arts organizations and other public spaces take on this work in ways that can be applied to museums. In taking these close looks, we hope to stimulate deeper conversations about what it means to be a museum and inspire people to look at their own organizations for ways to create new bonds with people and other organizations. Always, we hope to challenge assumptions about what and who an institution is for, who it speaks to, and what it can accomplish.

So together, let’s start thinking creatively about what it means to engage a community as a museum or as museum people. And let’s not forget that we’re a community, too, of readers and writers, and of museum students, alums, and workers! Please take a moment in the comments or send us an email at tuftsmuseumblog@gmail.com to let us know your thoughts about community and museums or to let us know about a great museum doing community engagement in a novel or successful way so we can write about it!

On Climate Change and Museums

This weekend, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) met in Katowice, Poland with the aim of reaching a global climate agreement. Almost 200 hundred nations’ diplomats were in attendance, and all agreed to track their annual greenhouse gas emissions, aligning with the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. With steadily increasing climate-related natural disasters and CO2 emissions that continue to rise, global warming is an issue that needs to be addressed not just internationally, but locally too. How can museums contribute to this conversation? Or, better yet, how can museums practice and promote climate activism?

With their frequent public programs focused on sustainability and climate change, the Hammer Museum is an excellent role model for other museums to follow in seeking to create more educational opportunities related to climate conversations. In the past year alone, the Museum hosted (free) monthly panel discussions concerning water usage, environmental equity, renewable energy sources, and ecosystems.

Similarly, many museums across the country feature rotating exhibitions that address conservation. The Museum of Science in Boston, for instance, currently displays three exhibits about wind power and other green energy alternatives. However, visitors should sometimes take these exhibits with a grain of salt: I’ll never forget the experience of visiting the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, TX and encountering an entire hall dedicated to “the benefits of fracking.” As it turns out, the exhibit was funded by Exxon.

While hosting programs about environmental conservation methods and creating platforms for discussing climate change is crucial, institutions must also consider clean energy and sustainable practices before the design and construction process for a new museum or remodeling project even begins. Both Boston Children’s Museum and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco have green roofs covered in native plants (and therefore bees), mechanisms for catching rain water, and other organic materials. “Living,” or green roofs such as these not only help reduce overall air pollution, but also function as natural insulators for buildings.

Finally, the American Alliance for Museums (AAM) is a great source for museums that wish to ground theirselves in green practices. The 2018 AAM annual meeting, for example, promoted the Environment and Climate Network to “establish museums as leaders in environmental stewardship and sustainability, and climate action.” Although COP24 is a strong start in the fight against further climate change, the issue can’t be modified without support from local institutions around the globe. I think museums are a wonderful place to begin.

 

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Greetings readers! Here is the national jobs roundup for the week of December 3rd:

Northeast

Facilitator [Tsongas Industrial History Center/ UMass Lowell- Lowell, MA]

Manager of Youth and Family Programs [Greenwich Historical Society- Cos Cob, CT]

Vice President of Experience [EcoTarium- Worcester, MA]

Supervisory Museum Curator [JFK Library and Museum- Boston, MA]

Collections and Exhibition Technician [The Boston Athenaeum- Boston, MA] 

Assistant to the Registrar for Data Entry, Photography, and Rights and Reproduction [Middlebury College Museum of Art- Middlebury, VT]

Director of Development [Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT]

Traveling Science Workshops Teacher [Discovery Museum, Acton, MA]

 

Mid- Atlantic

Public Programs Manager [New York Transit Museum- NY, NY]

Assistant Manager of Professional Learning [NY Historical Society- NY, NY]

Director of Advancement [Cooper Hewitt- NY, NY]

 

Southeast

Director of Education [Chrysler Museum of Art- Norfolk, VA]

 

Midwest

Membership Manager [Grand Rapids Art Museum- Grand Rapids, MI]

Assistant Curator [Chicago History Museum, Chicago, IL]

 

West

Coordinator for School Programs and Teaching Resources [Denver Art Museum- Denver, CO]

Director of Development [Bay Area Discovery Museum- Sausalito, CA]

Manager, Traveling Exhibits [Royal Ontario Museum- Toronto, Canada]

PR/Marketing Manager [Buffalo Bill Center of the West- Cody, WY]

Museum Educator [Western Gallery- Bellingham, WA]

 

Maasai Community Members Work to Decolonize Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum

The Maasai have been part of a process of cultural decolonization at Oxford’s famous Pitt Rivers Museum. The Living Cultures initiative is a collaboration between the museum, a Maasai community based campaign group called Oltoilo Le Maa, and community development organization InsightShare.  This initiative began when Maasai activist and Director of Oltoilo Le Maa, Samwel Nangiria, visited the museum for a conference last November. Upon walking through the museum he was shocked to see his own culture, objects from the Maasai community, “[They were] poorly described, with a lack of what the object is meant for [and its] cultural significance.” He described his heart beating fast “Because I know our culture is not dead. It’s a living culture.”

After expressing his discomfort with the museums director, Laura Van Broekhoven, he was invited back with four other Maasai leaders from Tanzania and Kenya. The purpose of the visit is to realign stories and descriptions of artifacts, showcase their powerful films and discuss how they use participatory video to bring sharply into focus their current land rights campaign. The Maasai leaders will work with the museum to change the way their living culture is represented beyond the framework of the imperial past.

This is especially important as the delegation has identified five of the sixty objects they have examined as sacred, which “they would not expect to find elsewhere apart from within their community.” One of which is an orkator, a bracelet that symbolizes the death of a father and is a form of inheritance that would be passed down through generations. As the bracelet cannot be sold or even given, it represents the darker side of many imperial ethnological museums. The Maasai believe that bad fortune may have come upon the family from which it was taken.

While this model of “originating-communities” visiting a museum for a week at a time is not sufficient to break down the colonial structures upheld by museums, the Pitt Rivers Museum is taking a step in the right directions by acknowledging the narratives of the people from these living cultures.

Further Reading:

Hey, that’s our stuff: Masaai tribespeople tackle Oxford’s Pitt Rivers museum
Living Cultures: Maasai leaders work with Pitt Rivers Museum to tell their story
Maasai leaders help Oxford University Pitt Rivers Museum better understand their culture

Where in the World is Salvator Mundi?

A year ago this month, Christie’s Auctions sold Salvator Mundi, one of about twenty known paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, for over $450 million, shattering all previous auction records and becoming the most expensive painting to ever be sold. The identity of the mysterious over-the-phone buyer remained anonymous for several days, until it was announced that a Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, had purchased the work with the aim of displaying it in the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. In September, however, the month that the Salvator Mundi was intended to be debuted, an official statement was released announcing a display postponement and that “further details will be announced soon.”

Although it has been over a year since the historic auction sale, Salvator Mundi has yet to be displayed, and scrutiny from museum professionals and art historians about its whereabouts has intensified. This week, it was announced that the painting may even be “lost,” since no one – aside from the Arab hierarchy – has seen it since the night of the auction.

This is not the first controversy associated with Salvator Mundi. In the media hype leading up the auction, many art historians and conservators were doubting its authenticity and provenance. Could this be the reason the painting has yet to be displayed? Perhaps the Louvre Abu Dhabi wants to ensure of its proper identification before it is shown to the world.

When, and if, Salvator Mundi is ever shown, I have to wonder where it will be displayed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, especially considering it is a prominent portrait of Christ in a country that largely practices Islam. Will the painting be given a whole wall to itself, similar to the representation technique of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris? Or will it be placed in dialogue with other religious works, such as in “Gallery Four: Universal Religions,” where Qur’ans, Bibles, and Hindu sculptures would surround it?” The world will have to stay tuned to find out.

 

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