The role of collections in museums is changing. While museums used to focus primarily on collecting, this focus on objects has changed drastically, at times disappeared almost completely. What role should a museum’s collection’s play?
Steven Conn points out museums were once founded on the belief “visitors would receive an education by visually engaging with objects;” graphics and educational programming were introduced as faith in the educational capacity of objects faded. (i) He suggests museums should move away from “antiquarian concern” about objects, instead using objects to connect people with a sense of place; objects should help the visitor “think about where they are past, present and future.”(ii)
Dr. Gretchen Sullivan Sorin believes historic houses are responsible for engaging their visitors and communities; rooms should be “dynamic,” “change often,” and not thought of as permanent installations. (iii)
According to Bruce MacLeish of Newport Restorations, objects still have an important role in interpreting history. He says museums should create interesting educational program that excites people, then chose artifacts that pull the visitor into the program.(iv)
Rainey Tisdale says people see objects as giving museums authenticity and that visitors want authentic objects and a source they can trust. This is source is the museum. (v)
Burt Logan of the Ohio Historical Society believes objects should enhance an exhibit, stating the education center at Mount Vernon has an exhibit that, although objectless, gives the visitor an understanding of Washington’s life; the visitor then goes across the hall to see artifacts. This approach “presents information in such a way that families and others find it engaging.” (ii)
How is your museum using collections to engage visitors?
(i) Steven Conn, Do Museum’s Need Objects? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 25-26.
(ii) “Wexner Center: Do Museums Still Need Objects?” The Ohio Channel, accessed November 8, 2011, http://www.ohiochannel.org/MediaLibrary/Media.aspx?fileId=124900.
(iii) Dr. Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, “What Do We Do With All of This Stuff?” Historic House Trust 6 (2011), 3-6.
(iv) Interview with Bruce MacLeish, Director of Collections, New Restorations, November 8, 2011
(v) Rainey Tisdale, “Do History Museums Still Need Objects?” History News (Summer 2011), 19,24.