People collect for a variety of reasons: interest, consumerism, fetishes, documentation of the past, and more. Museums collect to preserve, conserve, and interpret. No matter the reason behind the collecting the bottom line is that it happens.
Who cares about 17th Century Dutch furniture, paintings, etc that were collected by a former prominent family in the Albany area? The better question is not who cares but why should people care about these collections? Museum collections preserve the past so that we do not forget who we once were. At the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts their mission drives their collecting policy. They “brings the Shaker story to life and preserves it for future generations.” They have a difficult time of relating their collections to the every day visitor. They attempt to relate similar themes from the Shakers to modern day themes such as being green.
The Shakers made beautiful furniture, most people know that. When you visit the Hancock Shaker Village you walk into period rooms where the Shakers once lived and see artifacts that the Shakers once used. There is an eerie calmness in the air as you wander from room to room filled with artifacts but no people. How can Hancock and other historic house museums bring to life the stories of the past? There are interpretive paneling and interpreters at hand but that does not do it justice. We see the collections and we might obtain a small understanding of them but do we really see how their collection relates to us?
How can historic house museums change to better serve the public and relate personally each and every museum visitor? Are re-enactments the key? Are costumed interpreters what needs to be done? It all seems a bit dated. If we can find a way for every visitor to leave a museum with a better understanding of the collections then I believe that we truly are here for the public good.