Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Have you tried making your museum a more interesting place?

The title of this post is inspired by some ideas from Austin Kleon (his newsletter is really worth subscribing to, and Kleon's book "Steal Like An Artist" is a great read ...) where he relates several (possibly apocryphal) tales of writing teachers giving similar tough, but straightforward, advice to their students who want to become more interesting writers.

"Have you tried making yourself a more interesting person?" 

The upshot of Kleon's musings boil down to the idea that if you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

I started triangulating this notion of becoming a more interesting person with possible ways of creating more interesting museums, based on my love (and previous blog posts: here, here, and here) of "Museums Worth A Special Trip."

How can museums not currently worth a special trip become more interesting?  Let me immediately suggest two overused approaches that many museum folks try that quite often lead to less interesting museums:

1) Equating bigger with better   Of all the blunt force approaches to becoming a more interesting museum, nothing beats a large building (or building expansion) project.  Here's a news flash --- most museums should be improving their existing programs, exhibits, and facilities, not becoming bigger.

2) Adopting "best practices"  Best practices for who?  Best practices for where?  I'd argue that every museum should develop practices that are unique to their location and the communities they serve.  Why try to apply a "one size fits all" approach?

When I think about museums that I (and many other people!) find truly interesting, places like The City Museum in St. Louis, The Discovery Museums in Acton, MA, or the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh  the staff in these places seem to share a resistance to growth for growth's sake, or merely adopting someone else's notion of "best" practice, and instead have an insatiable desire to try new stuff, to experiment, and, most importantly, to quickly iterate through the physical manifestations of their ideas and to trust that their visitors will respond to their efforts --- even their failures.

Maybe another way to develop more interesting museums is to get things WRONG the first time!  To really push for ideas and interests that aren't completely tested and "safe" in every instance.

My wish is that you can discover something(s) in your own institution to become really interested in, so you can create an even more interesting museum for yourself and your visitors.


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