Back... to the Future!
American Association of Museums' 2011 conference.
Greetings from the American Association of Museums conference in Houston! My colleague Jen Dionisio and I have spent the last three days attending sessions, exploring the cultural institutions of this city, and talking with thought leaders about how museums are growing and changing in the 21st century.
Indeed, the theme of the meeting this year is “The Museum of Tomorrow.” It sounds like a contradiction in terms in one sense: museums are, by and large, tasked with preserving a piece of our culture, using history (in almost all cases) as a framework. But times are changing rapidly for museums. Budgetary concerns in a troubled economy have caused deep cuts in arts and culture funding, a sector that wasn’t exactly drowning in extra cash anyway. Museum professionals are forced to make hard choices regarding exhibitions, programming, and visitor engagement.
Simultaneously, the public has changed the way they utilize cultural resources. People have called into question traditional notions of what authority museums have—though they remain some of the most trusted sources of information, according to several studies conducted over the last few years. Visitors around the world have urged museums to become more interactive, more timely, and more directly engaged in their communities and receptive to the ideas of community members. Museums are coming out of their subject silos and becoming more multi-disciplinary, calling into question whether if familiar designations–history museum, art museum, science museum–are even relevant anymore. (Coming from exactly this environment at CHF’s museum, which lives at the intersection of science, history, and art, I think they're not.)
So what does this mean for museums in the coming years? How can we make them relevant and participatory while maintaining their positions as trusted sources of information? How can we keep museums accessible to everyone even as our funding resources become ever more pinched? What are the new business models that will support the fairly universal commitment to accessibility for all people? What new design concepts and aesthetics will allow galleries to be beautiful, functional, and changeable? And how can we make the public not only users of our institutions but genuine partners in the creation of content and programming?
It's been thrilling to talk to both leading thinkers and those in the trenches in the museum world this week about these very questions. And though I have no answers, I do have many ideas. What about you? What is your vision of the museum of the future? How can CHF’s museum serve your needs?