In these uncertain times, museums may serve as a safe harbor.
To people who are not as enthusiastic about the potential of museums as the readers of this site, museums may appear to be places where lost artifacts spend their dying years.
Despite this, there is a compelling argument that the museum is more relevant now than ever before. The simple museum has the capacity to reflect and affect our culture, from tackling significant social concerns to altering how we view the future. Here are five reasons why museums are more important than ever before.
Learning From The Past
First and foremost, museums and galleries offer an understanding of human history. Even while no museum can pretend to present a full picture, the lessons we may learn from historical events, marvels, and tragedies are invaluable.
This is especially true during turbulent times. Currently, it is hard to ignore the rising conflicts between nations, political parties, and cultural groupings. Rather than finding common ground, it appears that class, racial, gender, and ecology concerns are becoming further polarised.
To help the public reestablish this common ground and learn to build bridges rather than sow discord, many believe that museums have a role to play in providing us with perspective, whether through intellectual exercises or merely by highlighting past errors as examples of where such behavior will lead us once again.
The Queering Spires exhibition debuted at the Museum of Oxford in 2017 to honor the ‘hidden history of Oxford’s LGBTQIA+ community. Richard Howlett, the co-founder of the initiative, stated at the time that Oxford has a “strong queer heritage”
However, Howlett said, “history is concealed in people’s attics, file cabinets, and recollections. We anticipate bringing it to life through this display.”
It was revealed that the number of hate crimes in England and Wales had increased in only five years, with four out of five anti-LGBT+ hate crimes being undetected.
Through exhibitions like Queering Spires, museums may assist people and organizations in celebrating their individuality, promoting the message that it is acceptable to be different despite the continuous prejudice of some.
Often, education and comprehension are the most effective weapons against bigotry and ignorance. This is what the museum is able to exhibit.
Bringing Communities Together
Museums have the ability to foster harmony on a local, as well as a societal and political level. Local museums are able to foster a feeling of community and place by honoring a shared legacy, making them an excellent resource for learning about the history of a specific region.
There are countless local museums in the United Kingdom. The Hove Museum and Art Gallery, located in Hove near Brighton, is one such institution. This seaside residence, which is housed in an Italianate Victorian villa, was formerly the residence of a wealthy widow before sheltering German prisoners of war during World War II.
The house is loaded with local historical artifacts such as dolls, rocking horses, engravings, paintings, and sculptures. This museum provides a detailed history of Hove, spanning from ancient periods through the area’s pioneering cinema in the 20th century.
Similarly, the Discovery Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne honors the Northern Powerhouse, even before this term was created over the past few years. In ages past, the region was a leader in engineering, and whole towns thrived as a result. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the Discovery Museum’s tactile and interactive displays, while the lightbulb exhibition describes how Joseph Swan displayed his invention for the first time in Newcastle.
As technology and digitalization cause us to become increasingly globalized, institutions like these serve as a welcome reminder of the accomplishments and discoveries made closer to home, therefore uniting communities.
In a more literal sense, museums may bring people together through public events, seminars, and lectures. For instance, the British Museum collaborates with community organizations and charities to investigate, develop, and implement initiatives. Past endeavors have included working with schools, youth, creative arts collaborations, and the LGBTQIA+ community in the area.
In the meanwhile, some museums, such as the Museum of Street Culture in Dallas, Texas, develop exhibitions to aid underprivileged locals. Recently, the Museum of Street Culture initiated an initiative to engage the public in discourse with those suffering homelessness, therefore combating stigma and raising awareness.
This exhibit could not have arrived at a better moment, with recent findings proving that homelessness is five times more prevalent than previously believed.
Standing Firm In The Face Of Adversity
Taking a position always exposes a museum to the criticism of individuals who disagree with its exhibitions. In certain instances, criticism can escalate into something far worse. We need only go back to 2017 and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C., for evidence of this.
Here, visitors discovered a noose that had been deliberately left at the museum — one of the numerous hate acts that followed the 2016 presidential election outcome. Between November 2016 and early February 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented over 1,300 incidents of hatred.
Former Director Lonnie G. Bunch III described the noose as a horrific “symbol of tremendous brutality for African Americans,” one that quickly conjures images of lynchings during the Jim Crow era and white-on-black violence.
However, this tragedy helps to emphasize the significance of organizations like the NMAAHC. The existence of such strong hostility makes the necessity for African American narratives all the more apparent.
Innovation, Digitalization, and Interaction
What it means to be a museum is being questioned and challenged due to the technological advancements in the past two decades. The advancement of technology is changing museums from places of observation and education into places of interaction, participation, and engagement.
This is evident throughout the world’s leading institutions, like the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Lumin AR Tour at the museum employs augmented reality to enhance both the educational and practical parts of the museum visit. The 2017-introduced tour may be accessed via a portable device provided within the building.
When the gadget is directed at specific sculptures, artifacts, or paintings, more information about them is displayed. The gadgets offer, among other things, pop-up excerpts, full explanations, and supplementary photos, therefore boosting the average amount of time visitors spend interacting with items in the collection.
The ability to ‘x-ray’ an ancient mummy is one of the most intriguing and well-liked alternatives, allowing visitors to see both the interior and outside of this fascinating artifact.
Similarly, the ArtLens Interactive Studio at the Cleveland Museum of Art features a number of screen-based activities that need the viewer’s physical movement and participation to work.
Virtual painting and virtual collaging (using items found throughout the gallery’s collection); researching and learning about various featured artists and mediums using portable devices; front-facing camera self-portraiture; virtual pottery; and matching shapes to items in the gallery are just a few of the activities that visitors can expect to enjoy.
As curators seek to look outside the box and build more immersive, social, and collaborative learning opportunities for museum visitors, examples such as these demonstrate the evolution of museums.
In addition, technological progress has made museums more accessible than ever before. For individuals who may be unable to visit an institution in person, museums and galleries are offering their collections online. Virtual reality, digital instructions, downloads, applications, and digital trails are all more accessible to everyone.
We need museums because their future is so full of potential and promise – and more people than ever can get access to them.
Educating Future Generations
Future generations will always be educated by museums and other cultural institutions, no matter how long they exist. Institutions all across the world are doing their part to spread knowledge, whether it’s via the creation of kid-friendly exhibitions or the instruction of young people in a setting that’s something akin to a classroom.
Museums are, as Semper put it back in 1990, “an educational county fair”—a description that is as relevant now as it was then. According to the American Alliance of Museums, 80 percent of museums in the United States offer educational programs for children and spend more than $2 billion annually on educational activities.
For decades, children’s museums have been an integral element of museum culture. The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum (both in London) are two excellent examples of educational organizations dedicated to fostering a love of learning in youngsters.
Exhibits and activities for children are now available in regular museum locations, as well, For children, the Tate in London has a special website called Tate Kids, where they can learn about art through games and quizzes, watch movies, and even build their own artworks at home. The site’s online gallery allows them to share their work with other youngsters across the world.
Museums are as vital to the future as museums are to the future. No other place can do this, but museums do. They not only bring history to life, but they also shed light on the present and the future.
To learn more, click here.