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Because Impressive Taxidermy Alone Won't Cut It
By Quail Bell History Buff
Some weekends are meant for errands and chores. For this me, this past one happened to be well-suited to crossing things off of my to-do list. One feared task involved combing through all of my mail from the past two weeks. For a variety of reasons, there was a lot of it. Since most of it ended up being junk, I was disappointed to find that something I'd actually been looking forward to receiving was, well, lame. It was a magazine produced by a local museum association, one whose name shall be spared here.
The magazine was mostly black and white with hints of different shades of purple scattered throughout its pages. Though glossy, the publication was not too far removed from the PTA newsletter of a well-to-do public high school. The articles were not much better. The whole premise of the magazine is to teach museum professionals how to maintain their institutions and better their careers. In a word, the magazine is about money. This issue contained, for example, a rather obvious and unhelpful story about crowdsourcing. Perhaps the magazine appeals to the current generation of senior curators, but what about the next generation? Does the average educated 22-year-old really need to be told what Kickstarter is? And isn't the recent college graduate or the young professional the one most likely to benefit from a monthly magazine concerning the tricks of the trade, at least in the long-run?
Museums rely heavily on fundraising. They look for private donations and grants. Earning all they need from admission sales is a rare, if not non-existent, occurrence. This is what makes the vast majority of them non-profit organizations. According to the American Alliance of Museums, more people visited American museums in 2011 than the number of people who attended major league sporting events and theme parks. But you'd never guess it from the revenue baseball and Disney World generate. Even the Smithsonian—la crème de la crème—can't rely on gift shop sales alone or even largely. 70 cents of every dollar used by the Smithsonian comes from the federal government. Perhaps that model works now and maybe it will continue to work for a long time. Yet it is unlikely that it will work forever, and most museums in the United States cannot even dream of having the Smithsonian's budget.
Think of all the little house museums in Virginia and Maryland alone, for instance. Some of these places operate on less than $100,000 per year, including what it costs to pay employee salaries. Assuming a museum has two full-time employees earning $40,000 each, that leaves only $20,000 to run the joint. If you're a homeowner, you know that ain't squat. Sure, museums get tax breaks, but it's not like they get everything for free. The museum staff must still spend money to keep the museum open.
However, museums will have a difficult time staying open if they do not learn to appeal to young people. Not everyone, dear Quail Bell(e)s, appreciates the inherent awesomeness of old things. That is one of the reasons why museums exist: to show the general public why history matters. Museum staff already have quite a responsibility updating their exhibits. (The iPad craze has helped and hurt them in that regard.) Museum staff have another responsibility, as well: to keep their industry media (e.g., publications, websites) fresh and interesting to everyone in the field, not just the long-timers. If you can't get the people working in museums excited about museums, you can't expect museums to be around forever, especially if there's nobody to take them over in a decade.
#Museums #History #NewMedia #Multimedia #Curators #NextGeneration #Millennials #Technology #Publishing