The AAM’s Excellence and Equity highlights the importance of museums expanding their role as educational institutions, especially in terms of culturally diverse audiences. Roy Rosenzweig’s and David Thelen’s Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life attempts to study the ways in which Americans think about the past. With these two publications flanking the discussion of audience centered museums, the term becomes much more difficult to define and execute. How can a museum remain audience centered with a nation that is continually growing more culturally and demographically diverse? And is it important for a museum to remain completely audience centered? Can they maintain their mission and goals at the same time?
The American public is comfortable with museums. They put museums in a safe little box where nothing presented to them is challenging to their perceptions or ideals. The exhibitions have been weaned down to their most political correctness and the public can ingest them without analysis. Right? WRONG.
It can be argued that it is okay if visitors do not leave a museum 100% satisfied. Yes, the visitors should have a great time and an excellent experience, the museum should be clean and tidy, there should be adequate restrooms, and the staff should be kind and helpful. But perhaps visitors are less than 100% satisfied with their visit because they met an unexpected challenge along the way. They were asked to think. Museums should run away from the romanticized view of history. It is not the history that people connect with; it is not their past. Museums should be comfortable with pushing their visitors to examine their present in view of the past. Museums do not have to just be preservers of the past. They can play a role in the development of public thought and education. By telling and forcing people to think about the underrepresented views of history, their history, museums can remain important, vital educational institutions in their communities.