As the generations who engage with museums are changing and evolving, most museums themselves are changing and evolving as well. The history of museums emphasize collecting as a human instinct - one of physical security, social distinction, the pursuit of knowledge and connoisseurship, and a desire for a sort of immortality (Alexander and Alexander 8). Museums honored objects, whether it be fine art or trinkets, rarities, and coins. As museums shifted from private to public institutions, simply opening up the doors of museums to the public was not enough to make museums and their content and mission accessible to the public. Alexander and Alexander described how visitors once entered museums that had been “described to them as a land of wonders, and they discovered they were aliens in it” (9). Museums today are still coming up with new ways to make their collections accessible to everyone who wants to experience the exhibits.
There is a tension between museums as houses of objects and as places of experience. As museums lean towards showcasing artifacts in new ways, it must be ensured that allowing visitors to engage with the artifacts as they see fit isn’t preventing viewers from viewing objects in a more traditional sense as well. One article “How Will Covid-19 Change the Way Museums are Built” by Jennifer Black explores how COVID-19 and desires for social distancing could change how exhibits are designed. Bea Spolidoro, an architect who focuses on public health in her designs, suggests a labyrinth design, a similar concept to the Ikea superstore in which there is a clear, curated path throughout the exhibit where visitors don’t pass the same object twice, in order to avoid having large groups of people in one open space (Black 5). However, this approach takes power away from the visitor to engage with the objects in the order they best see fit, whether this even may mean revisiting objects. Alexander and Alexander quoted Didier Maleuvre and his philosophy on this: “The museum does give free time - freedom to loiter and tarry, to indulge the double-take, the retracing of steps, the dreamy pause, the regress and ingress of reverie, the wending process that is engagement” (4). Ensuring the health and safety of visitors shouldn’t have to change the way an exhibit is experienced.
Rachel B. Levin’s article, “How the Pandemic Changed Museums Forever (or Did It?)”, discussed how covid-19 led the USC museum to create digital ways for visitors to engage with the museum from their own homes. This led the museum to adapt the innovative technologies of 3d virtual tours in which visitors can still experience the works at their own pace and having virtual programming which greatly increased attendance. Though, attendance isn’t always the best way to measure the impact of museums, and having programming online rather than in person certainly takes away from such aspects of human connection that many museums are trying to emphasize through their programs. As covid leads more museums to develop their digital presence, it is important that technology isn’t being used to replace in person exhibits, but to enhance them.