That belongs in a museum!

Like so many of the concepts proposed in Reinventing the Museum, civic engagement is a big one. If museums wish to be seen as social, inclusive, reflective, and responsive institutes, we must broaden our spectrum and become a “catalyst for discussion”. How do we engage?

Julie Broadbent, of the Antique Boat Museum, and I discussed the impact of museums through television and film. As an educator and as a participant in popular culture, Julie agreed that audiences gain historical preconceptions through the film industry that can be utilized in civic engagement and participation.

Unlike previous decades, museums are no longer seen merely as cold vaults containing treasure. Instead, movies such as Night at the Museum put a face on museums. Inspired by this success, museums utilize this theme hosting sleepovers and programs providing an outlet for discussion, new audiences, and participation. Currently, Julie is planning a series of  evening programs focused on engaging teens of the community, an audience not typical to the Antique Boat Museum. The first theme will be about William Johnson, a local pirate who fought in the War of 1812. The recent pirate hype actively seen in the museum world is due to the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  As Julie says, “you never know your audience until you ask them.”

Museums can and should use television and film to encourage debate and communication. We should view this as an opportunity to discuss and present facts. Afterall, you never know what great things we could do together until we try!

– Meghan Evans

Black, Graham. Embedding Civil Engagement in Museums, in Reinventing the Museum edited by Gail Anderson (Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK: Altamira Press, 2012).

Interview with Julie Broadbent, Educator at the Antique Boat Museum, October 10, 2012


About evanme28

Museum professional, tea snob, friend of time (who can't stand beatings) and time lords.
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19 Responses to That belongs in a museum!

  1. I like the way that the museum sticks to scholarship (they know that William Johnson was a real pirate) and finds a way to incorporate popular culture into their programming. They haven’t abandoned their mission, but have found ways to enhance it and excite the public.

  2. mbalexander says:

    This reminds me of a classmate who got a kind of “Downton Abby” themed tour of Hyde Hall in Glimmerglass State Park outside of Cooperstown, NY. I wonder how popular shows like Downton Abby might perk up the often static historic house museum. By taking visitor’s interest in the “downstairs culture” it might be a great way to engage people in a wider more inclusive narrative about the people who worked and lived in these homes.

    • evanme28 says:

      True! I must confess when our classmate spoke about Downton Abbey on her tour I was more engaged as a fan of the show. For me it made more interesting.

      • As the classmate who went on the “Downton Abbey” themed tour, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Of course, I am a huge fan of the show and enjoy “history from the bottom up.” But I also think there are limits to using pop culture in such a way. I was the only one on that tour, other than the tour guide, who knew the reference. I have to wonder how much the older couple with me understood the servant life at Hyde Hall since they had never seen the show. I would love to see more pop culture in museums but I think it’s also really easy to alienate audiences when you use it to make a point. Include it, but don’t let it drive an entire tour (unless of course it’s a tour that people sign up for because they love the show/movie!).

  3. 27 teens participated in the night and yes a teen dressed a Jack Sparrow did show up! The teens then came up with some great ideas for the next teen night. It was wonderful talking to you Meghan, good luck for the rest of the semester.

    • evanme28 says:

      YEAH! I am so impressed by your numbers! That is amazing! So glad your night was successful and that they were able to brainstorm other program ideas. Thank you so much for a wonderful interview. I hope to meet you in person at future alumni events.

  4. dlewisarfm says:

    I am curator/educator of the Aurora Regional Fire Museum in Aurora, IL. I’m all for inclusion — and non-traditional public (civic) engagement. I’m proud to say we’ve hosted weddings, funerals, ceremonies of every sort, art fairs, public planning forums, health-fairs, you name it. We interpret our mission statement rather broadly, and take a cue from the firefighters that we represent, in that we “serve for the public good.”

    I’m (sadly) a dozen-years post CGP, but I’m a subscriber and frequent poster to various museum email discussion list-servs. Its interesting that the question of working with film/TV companies comes up fairly routinely — and the responses/advice has always been “RUN!” (which sorta surprises and upsets me). Sometimes it’s small-budget productions for a local commercial, other times it’s a production company wanting to use a historic property as a period-prop, and having had first-hand experiences, I’ll admit it is difficult working with production people (indeed that might be a fun professional seminar?). ….But even when folks have said they’re working on a project *about* their museum, or perhaps a segment for “Secrets of the Museum” or some-such show, they’re advising other museum professionals to shy away from such opportunities. I’d challenge, don’t we have a duty/obligation to utilize all the opportunities we can to convey our stories?

    • evanme28 says:

      Great comments! I too have heard that many museums are reluctant to partner with film and television companies due to complications. I think the fear is greater than the excuse of complications. I think the fear is of shared authority.

      I agree with you that museums should take advantage of the opportunity to work with film and television. This partnership will help the community and assist with advertising It is our duty to utilize these opportunities especially in this still shaky economy.

      Thanks for your comments! I went to high school in Aurora and I used to volunteer at Naper Settlement. Nice to know there are alumni out there making a difference. Hope to meet you at a future alumni event!

  5. lindseymarolt says:

    Definitely! Museums certainly aren’t helping their reputations when they shy away from pop culture or working with film/TV. To me, when museums use pop culture to teach real history it shows that they don’t take themselves too seriously, and I love a museum with a sense of humor.

    Julie, I love that you used the Pirates night to ask teens to help brainstorm other teen nights. That seems like a great way to convince more young people that museums don’t suck. (

    • evanme28 says:

      I love your comment about giving museums “a sense of humor.” Sometimes I fear that our communities view museums as snobby know-it-alls who look down upon them. I must confess I have felt this in some museums, but I think it has changed dramatically in the past few years. Museums are fun centers for continued education. If we push our audience away by making them feel stupid, how will we survive?

    • lizcongdon says:

      All of this talk about teens makes me think of Nina Simon’s work:

      Somewhere between middle school and adulthood, we are losing interest most rapidly from young men. Maybe some of these events that we are all talking about will help get them more involved and encourage them to be future museum advocates.

  6. I think the link between museums and popular film is definitely not a stretch! Both seek to tell stories that engage and entertain people. The popularity of historical fiction films (and the success of Keira Knightley’s career) show that people are still interested in history. Any way that museums can use this interest to engage audiences is a great way to stay relevant is exciting!

    • evanme28 says:

      Agreed! I can’t tell you how many of my friends watch a period piece film or television show and afterwards search the internet to see what was fact and what was fiction. This could be a wonderful opportunity for museum engagement.

      Thanks for your comment!

  7. I wonder sometimes if it is truly a fear of shared authority or a fear of accumulating negative stigma that comes with linking something to a movie. That fear of becoming Mel Gibson from “The Patriot”? The worry of losing historical or academic recognition maybe? It’s probably a little of both; the stress of sharing authority, but also the fear of sounding “not academic” enough. I’m not sure, but I certainly agree it needs to be tried. I think what Julie has done is a great example of how people, especially kids, can make a connection between the museum (something they may know nothing about) to a popular culture reference (something they probably know a lot about). Trying to shake fear in order to jump in and try new things in a museum seems like one of the hardest parts, but if you look at the example from the Antique Boat Museum it is obvious that the outcome can be very rewarding.

    • evanme28 says:

      Very true. There are period pieces out that completely get it wrong and who wants to be associated with bad history? Not me!

      I can’t help but wonder though who the public goes to for further education without the expense of a degree? According to the survey found in Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen’s The Presence of the Past, 11% named movies and television programs as trustworthy sources. The fact that it was even listed surprised me!

      Thanks for your great comments!

    • kwoodling says:

      Sam, I think you are completely right! There is a stigma attached to anything related to Hollywood (and, unfortunately, in many cases, rightly so). I think museums feel that if they relate or connect too much to popular culture, they lose credibility, which does not have to be the case. If they can just find the right spin, the results will open the door to a new generation of audiences.

  8. georgied14 says:

    Julie Bradbent’s programming seems like an interesting idea! Through the readings that we have done over the course of the semester, we have learned that teenagers are a dwindling museum demographic. Many times, teenagers are grouped into age groups of which they do not belong. That, in addition to their inevitable hormonal moodiness, makes them a difficult group to reach. But we still have forge ahead and to do it. Using television and film as a platform to talk about museums seems almost anti-museum. And I love it! Mass media is here to stay, so we may as well embrace it and utilize it to our advantage.

  9. georgied14 says:

    *Julie Broadbent

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