Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Museum Mission Pop Quiz (First In A Series)

Pop Quiz:  Do the two statements below belong together? Why or why not?


The Mission of the Museum of Science:
The Museum's mission is to play a leading role in transforming the nation's relationship with science and technology. This role becomes ever more important as science and technology shape and reshape our lives and world, and it means we:
  • Promote active citizenship informed by the world of science and technology
  • Inspire lifelong appreciation of the importance and impact of science and engineering
  • Encourage young people of all backgrounds to explore and develop their interests in understanding the natural and human-made world
To do this, we will continue to build our position as a leader in the world's museum community and use our educational perspective as an informal learning institution to help the formal pre K-12 education system.


Harry Potter™: The Exhibition
Opening Soon at the Museum of Science:
Harry Potter™ is a cultural phenomenon, inspiring the imaginations of millions across the globe. Now it's your chance to peer into the wizard's world in a new exhibit featuring more than 200 authentic props and costumes from the Harry Potter films, all displayed in settings inspired by the film sets -- including the Great Hall, Hagrid's hut and the Gryffindor™ common room. View iconic film artifacts such as Harry's glasses, the Marauder's Map, and Hermione's Yule Ball gown, and pause to pull a screeching Mandrake from its pot or try your hand at tossing a "Quaffle."


  1. On face value the answer is of course no but digging more deeply, in the minds of the grade school kids, science for example a kids comprehension of the forces of nature is as much about magic as wands are.

    Nice blog by the way

  2. I understand the concern (and I think those of us in science centres definitely need to exercise more filtering on our temporary exhibit bookings), but at the same time even the best science centre has no impact when it's empty. I guess if these decisions were easy we'd all be Chief Execs...

  3. Hi Richard and Andy,

    Thanks for your comments, but I think you let the science museum off the hook a little too easily --- do we:

    1)Really want kids (inside a science museum!) to treat natural forces as "magic"?

    2)Reduce all our decisions to a pure numbers game?

    If we're really willing to launch down the slippery slope of rationalization when every sexy, but off-mission, opportunity arises, why bother to have a mission statement at all?

  4. I would rather get kids excited about the science behind what on the face seems mysterious than have adopt a gamers perception of the world and think of museums as somehow irrelevant.

    To think that creating a museum that ignores what is going on in the mind of a kid leads to the failure of centers such as Inventure Place and Health Museum of Cleveland.

    As a kid, I did not go to the US Army Medical Museum because of the science, I went to look at gross stuff. As I got older I visited because it was fascinating. I probably visited the Army Medical Museum 20 times between ages 10-15.

  5. Having fantastical re-constructions of made-up places, 'magical' explanations for phenomena, and film props is utterly ridiculous as "science." Maybe if the exhibition was confined to the computer technology used in the making the films ... but even that's a stretch.

  6. I actually had a discussion about this very topic with a friend of mine who works at the MOS on Monday. He told me that WB is being really really persnickety about the exhibit: the MOS wanted to add their own signage, use their 'science cart' technique to bring more of their own spin to the thing, and use their own educational staff, but they weren't allowed. I'm not sure how much that counts as a mitigating factor to the decision to have the exhibition in the first place, but I think it matters to know that there are people in the institution as baffled as we.

  7. The science of magic, ie there is no such thing as magic, is legit. Magic without explanation/un-magicing it, does not fit the mission. With WB dictating what can go on signs, etc, how is that different from so many other quandaries we museum people find ourselves in lately? can't we just say it is what it is: a blatant attempt to draw big crowds for the earned income? Phoey on rationalization . . .

  8. Hi,

    I agree for a "straight-up" science museum it's a real stretch. But is it really that black and white? What about a museum like the Powerhouse in Sydney, which spans science, technology, design and popular culture? Then I think there's a strong argument that it *is* appropriate.

  9. Thanks for the great comments!


    Speaking as a big fan of black and white distinctions ... I'm always a little dubious about museums that claim to be about "everything" as a rationalization to presenting a bogus exhibit topic.

    Are there topics/objects that are "unexhibitable" or is everything really fair game?

  10. There's always a way to "spin" an exhibit to better fit your mission/institution. Movie related exhibits hardly fit anyone's mission, and yet they will be made and hosted because they bring in big crowds which=$$.

    If the Museum of Science took the time to incorporate actual scientific principles, theories, etc, they'd have an amazingly compelling exhibit - as opposed to a HP squeefest.

  11. In the Toronto Declaration we describe us as "trustworthy places". The Swedish Science Center association has defined a science center as an institution on "scientific ground". We do astronomy not astrology, I use to say. Harry Potter is a great fantasy reading for kids, but he is not science. He will not be exhibited at our place. /Olle

  12. NO. No connection at all. I don't know what led up to this, so I can only wonder. With these two statements as the only bit of information, my view is that it is a desperate act demonstrating how desperate this museum is for attention, visitors, community support, and public approval. Failure to retain control of the Science Museum role vs. allowing WB to scuttle that role only makes it worse. Rudderless this ship has crashed on the rocks. It's time to totally rethink where they are going and what they are willing to do to get there.

  13. HA!

    This reminds of the Royal Armouries in the UK. They had a mission statement to promote anti-knife violence, and yet displayed Weta Workshop Lord of the Rings swords.

    Because nothing combats knife crime than a whole bunch of fantasy violence.

  14. Ah provocative Paul,
    I would suggest that the second statement isn't a mission statement but a description of an exhibt. And the question is whether the Harry Potter exhibit fulfills the mission's goal of "Inspire lifelong appreciation of the importance and impact of science and engineering" with an emphasis of engineering. If the science and engineering behind Harry Potter "the effects" is a major component of the exhibit then it seems to me then it is working to fulfill the goal. If it is simply cool then it is an attractor and I would hope that it brings in a different audience to the Museum where they will be exposed to Science.