I love etymology, and I think it’s so interesting how this word “museum” derives from a place meaning “place of the muses’’ (Alexander and Alexander, 2008) and this idea of connection between musing and amusement; personally I think this highlighting of play runs integral to how I perceive all learning experiences. The notion of museums as places of education and public enlightenment (Alexander and Alexander, 2008); I’m thinking back to last week and talking about the participatory museum and how, if it is the goal, to invite people in so that the space itself may not be the source of enlightenment but the people brought to the space and what they carry is a source. I am always thinking about assessment and measurement and how can we know if something is “working”: “What’s the appropriate criteria for measuring the impact of museums? How does a museum quantify its visitors’ quiet, reflective inspiration” (Alexander and Alexander, 2008) posits a really interesting idea: measuring impact through silence. I think back to our sticky notes on things in museums we didn’t like and how multiple notes were pointing out the idea of being uncomfortably or forcibly silent. Is this something that museums want to promote, especially if participatory engagement is the goal? And if not, what other methods can we use to assess engagement and impact? How does that interact with the social notion of “museums of science as schools… museums of art as temples’’ (Alexander and Alexander, 2008)?
In COVID-19, an argument made for funding and supporting museums as vital and essential institutions was that they contain “educational opportunity and collections access” (Wyld, 2020). I think this dichotomy is very interesting, especially in direct juxtaposition with the statements by Alexander and Alexander (2008) of museums as places of education and places of enlightenment. The difference highlighted in the two works may point to the differences in public perception; perhaps the former article is leveraging the fact that more work needs to be done in the public image to reshape museums from places that collect and hold things to places that can engage and enlighten (through participatory practice). With the pandemic, there was time to reassess and understand fully that there was a need to “[make] people the center of the building” (Pogrebin, 2022). There’s increased understanding that people do want museums and want to go in person and do want to participate and be a part of the space. That aligns with the participatory elements we covered last week. One museum executive said: “if you build it, they will come” (Pogrebin, 2022) and I think this is a bold assumption, perhaps flying in the face of standard best practices, and I wonder if that approach parallels older conceptions of museums: being solitary and in-and-of-themselves places of enlightenment, as opposed to creating spaces where people can bring all of themselves and produce in and with the space and learn together.
Looking at the curiosity cabinet, I think the reframing from it as a prototype museum to a site of cultural practice (Bowry, 2014) can teach us things about museums and our perception of them today. What really stood out to me was the dynamic classification system and purpose of the cabinet. Classifying for a desired quality AND simultaneously understanding and appreciating the idiosyncrasy of that approach (Bowry, 2014) AND allowing for different classifications / multiple classifications really challenges how (at least I) think about museums displaying objects they have. This moving of things around, this ability to coexist through multiple ideas and intentions, and on top of that this idea that the arrangement and collection is an attempt to make sense of the world and create wisdom; I think this idea is implicit within museums and I think it could be made more powerful and compelling if spelled out even more. I think Bowry’s final notes are important to remember: “knowledge… [is] constructed and situated – [it] only operate[s] within a very precise context” (Bowry, 2014); who is creating the knowledge, who chooses what knowledge to create, who is it for?