Several times over the past few months I have referred to 'the museum world' without much explanation. When you work in a museum you sometimes forget what it's like NOT to work in a museum. Museums can be very absorbing little worlds, because they have such odd functions and corners and people in them. I love the museum world despite its faults, and feel like maybe I should try to explain why. I mean, I like museums so much that I have devoted the past 10 years of my life to working in them. At what usually feels like a volunteer’s salary, so you should gather just how much I truly like and believe in museums.
For today’s exercise in plumbing the depths, I’m going to try to explain WHY I like museums. Here goes. Warning: I feel a list coming on.
I like museums because they are full. Full of stories, full of people, full of stuff.
I like museums because they are about people, and I am a people-person.
I like museums because they are about objects, beliefs, the past, the present, the future, mysteries, creativity, fact and fiction, history, shiny things, big important things, tiny unimportant things, difference, emotions, and charisma.
I like museums because of what they do:
- they care for things
- they make rare things available to many
- they educate adults and children alike, formally and informally
- they provide adults and children with opportunities they couldn’t learn or see or experience anywhere else
- they create light-bulb moments
- they allow spaces for thinking/feeling/experimenting
- they reflect, they connect, they explain
- they explain that some questions can’t be answered
- they show that some questions are worth asking anyway
- they allow comparisons/contrasts/juxtapositions that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else
- they embrace eccentricity
- they communicate with and without words
- they create a space for rest
- they create a space for play
- they appeal to the senses
- and last but not least they offer postcards for sale.
I admit, sometimes I like museums just for the postcards.
I like museums because in today’s world of high speed, high volume, technological, virtual, brand name everything, museums often manage to slow me down, quiet my mind, allow me to hear human voices instead of computerized or televised ones, allow my own imagination to create virtual worlds, rather than rely on someone else’s web program.
I like museums because they are not shopping malls or amusement parks or video arcades.
Above all I like museums for the stories.
I recognize that museums have their faults. Even museums I truly adore have their faults. And not all museums are good ones, or even for me personally, all that interesting. Sometimes, when museums don't fulfill their potential, they can be very frustrating.
I’ll even allow – in theory at any rate – that there are people in the world who just don’t like any museums at all, ever. I feel that way about bananas, so I have to admit that there may be folks who don’t like museums. I would argue, however (because that’s just who I am), that the sheer number and variety of museums in the world is bound to produce at least one museum, or one part of one museum, that would appeal to just about anybody, even a confirmed museum-hater. But again, that’s just me.Museums sometimes make my feet hurt or my eyes water - and not in a good way. But I still love them. I love the challenge of trying to use the medium of a museum to communicate a story or an idea. I believe museums are important to society because they hold and offer unique resources. I believe my work in museums is important because I help make those resources available.
I should probably assume that anyone still reading by now is also a museum-lover, or maybe a family member. Thank you for sticking with me. Despite what is quite obviously some sort of obsession.