How Museums Are Looking Back and Moving Forward

Added to Medium, October 25, 2018

As museums plan for the future, museum professionals are looking back at how much progress the museum field has come and how much we still need to accomplish as a field. We are constantly looking for ways to improve the field within the museum walls and within our communities. There are numerous examples of this push to move forward in the museum field. I have previously mentioned the changes museums are working towards continuing to be relevant in the community and the world in many posts in the past. I will mention a couple of recent examples I have come across that express this point.

Professional development programming, especially conferences, have sessions that stress how museums can adapt to changes in communities and society. This year I am returning to attending the New England Museum Association conference since I was not able to attend previous conferences once I moved to Long Island. Next month, the NEMA conference will celebrate its 100th annual conference. This conference’s theme is Museums on the Move, and each session investigates how museums have evolved since the very first NEMA conference and how they are positioning themselves for success in the century ahead. One of the points that was addressed about this year’s conference that is very poignant was:

It’s our field’s chance to take stock - to reflect on where we’ve come from and where we are going, and to reset our GPS if necessary along the way.

We are still trying to figure out as a field what we need to improve our field and our relationship with the community around us. I am looking forward to participating in this year’s conference, and learning how the museums I am with and how all museums can move forward in adapting to changes in our institutions and in our society.

Another recent example is within tonight’s MuseumEdChat on Twitter about museums and specialty programs. We talked about the topic Evaluating the Effectiveness of Specialty Programs by looking at cultural heritage or history month programming, along with large anniversaries or milestone celebrations. The first question that was addressed is What “specialty” programs (i.e. Women’s History Month, Native American Heritage Month, etc.) are out there in museums and cultural institutions? There are varying answers to this question depending on what type of museum and what their focus is in programming.

The next question asked was: In your opinion, what makes a good specialty program? Of course there were varying opinions since these museum professionals work in museums that are different types. For instance, I mentioned science museums in my opinion:

A2 For science, I believe what would make a good specialty program is paying attention to what is happening in current events i.e. climate changes. #museumedchat

Another opinion I came across in the Twitter conversation was focused on history museums.

A2: For history…1- Asking how the subject applies to the present/future. 2- General commitment to finding stories about a group of people. #museumedchat

Since I also work in a historical society, I concur with this opinion since keeping history relevant is especially important for all programming and exhibits in history museums and historic sites. One of the final questions in this discussion was about the side effect of having specialty programs.

The question specifically asked was: What are the downsides and/or general pitfalls of specialty programs? One of the answers that stood out to me was:

A3- it is easy to get wrapped up in the same old programming with specialty program. I also think it can create misconceptions if not done correctly, especially if it’s about a cultural group. Lastly, it worries me that sometimes we limit to heroes and holidays…. #museumedchat

This stood out to me because I think this is a common concern for many museum educators especially since we have so much more to offer than what we commonly do for programming. I do not think that we can resolve this situation with one recommendation since each museum is different and has a different focus in education programming.

Online communities, like #MuseumEdChat, are great examples of how museum professionals are continuing the discussions of how museums should move forward with changes needed for museums to be relevant for today’s society and community.

What are your museums and organizations doing to continue the discussion of how your organization has changed and will continue change?

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