The article in the Post this morning asks Is There a Future for Old-Fashioned Museums?
However, when you read the article, that’s not the real issue being addressed. A better question would be why should museums exist in the first place?
In the age of the networked computer, museums are being fundamentally challenged in the same ways that other bastions of education and entertainment — from libraries to the music industry — are being rocked to their cores.
The arguments swirl. Are museums in the bone-and-pigment business, reliquaries of the past? Are they in the theater business, telling stories through sensational lighting, presentations like stage sets and costumed interpretive actors? Are museums in the experience business, forced to reach for ever fancier gizmos and blockbusters to compete with the sports world and Disney for family time and money?
Actually, none of the above. Museums are in the same business we are: education.
And if these institutions are going to continue to exist, the people running them need to use the most engaging, compelling techniques available to help their visitors understand the stories they have to tell.
Just like we should be doing in the classroom – and largely are not.
Some institutions, like the Exploratorium in San Francisco or the Newseum here in DC (opening sometime next year), are willing to abandon the traditional structure of a museum, which usually means displaying lots of artifacts in glass cases with little labels on the side.
Others like the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum (whose numbers are way down in the past few years) aren’t, largely sticking with the same static exhibits.
It’s too bad schools can’t learn from and be more like the former. Instead of emulating the later.