We live in an exciting world where museums are changing more than ever. Advances in technology, communication and interpretation practices are shaking up a relatively slow moving field. Through these changes museums must remember their purpose: serving the public. I think this argument was best stated by Amanda Manahan, the Collections and Interpretation Coordinator at Hanford Mills Museum, who said “If museums are not for people, then what are they for?”
This theoretical shift of questioning the purpose of museums is not new. Scholars like John Cotton Dana and Duncan F. Cameron called for it throughout the twentieth century and their words formed the foundation for modern day scholars who advocate for the public. In 1992, professionals across the museum field created Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums. This American Museum Association publication argues that the main purpose of museums is to serve and educate the public while reflecting a more diverse world. To AAM, this is what the museum field should be all about.
Then why bother with objects? The tradition of collecting, preserving, and placing objects on the wall for quiet contemplation still exists in many museums, but just because people are looking at objects does not mean they learning. Museums are experimenting with different ways of engaging audiences to create a meaningful and educational experience. Objects in reinvented museums are used to tell a story or promote dialogue, connecting the visitor to what they see and educating them about the past.
American Association of Museums. Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums. Washington D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1992.
Anderson, Gail ed. Reinventing the Museum: The Evolving Conversation on the Paradigm Shift. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2012.
Interview with Amanda Manahan, Collections and Interpretation Coordinator at Hanford Mills Museum. September 28, 2015.