Paradigm shift. A fancy phrase that museologists use to describe the change within the museum field over the past thirty years. But have museums shifted as the theory suggests? Reinventing the Museum discusses this theoretical change within our public institutions. Authors such as Stephen Weil pontificate on how museums should no longer value the object above the visitor or build temples. The growing emphasis on education encourages museums to create provocative exhibits addressing contemporary issues or inspiring new ways to learn old facts. Focus on the visitor and inclusion of diverse audiences correlates with education, creating the biggest shift of all: the museum as a relevant institution that anticipates and meets the needs of its community. However, few of the authors provide specific examples of museums shifting to this new paradigm of a visitor centric, public service oriented institution.
Yet something has certainly changed within museums over the course of the twentieth century. The Florence Griswold Museum, for example, embraces education and creative exhibits like the Faerie Village. Each October, contemporary artists create fairy dwellings. Visitors learn about the inspiration of the Lyme Art Colony and contribute to the exhibit with their own pictures. Jeff Andersen, director, counts this as one of the best exhibits due to its wide outreach while holding true to the museum’s mission in an engaging way.
Museums have changed, and continue to, but is their shift sufficient to remain relevant institutions? Possibly. A satisfied and engaged community is one way to tell.
Anderson, Gail, ed. Reinventing the Museum. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2012.
Interview with Jeff Andersen, Director of The Florence Griswold Museum, September 17, 2012.