What is a museum? What should a museum be? Well according to the AAM, a museum is required to follow generic guidelines that include: having a mission, being educational and accessible to the public. However, if you just call yourself a museum the AAM will not contest. A museum, according to Eugene Dillenburg, is anything that has a physical exhibit meant to reach the public. This is the basic definition of a museum – a space open to the public that showcases exhibits, aimed to entertain or educate.
Before we talk about what a museum really is and who their members are today, we must examine from where the museum evolved and what issues have remained throughout its evolution. The modern “museum” as we know it has evolved from European countries to the United States, and then to most parts of the colonized world. This in itself has brought many issues. One of them being the exclusivity of European museums. In today’s time, there is a push to allow everyone access to the education that a museum can provide, and through the use of “soft power” the museum can wield its power for the betterment of all people.
In Europe, the museum was created mainly from collections that were donated by or kept in the hands of the rich, the temples and the churches. Thus, access was not available to all. Whatever access was given to the public might have come with a price tag that many people just could not afford to waste on “recreations.” While in the past 200 years museums have made huge strides in their involvement of the public with free admission, there is a lot more that could be done and more places to either offer free admission or at least one free night of the week. Even with over 850 million people visiting museums each year, the museum naturally has to fight to get the attention of the masses and get them to enter through its doors. Museums can draw people in offering them education, culture, art and sometimes even a good time with music, fashion shows and other special live performances. That being said, museums have the power and choice of how they connect to its patrons and what they leave them with.
The theory of soft power argues that by using everything at its disposal – government, innovation, education, and diplomacy – museums can open people’s minds and educate them on matters that they might not have known. When researching the New Museum, one can see that on July 10 there was a Black Lives Matter Event, and there are many other initiatives and events that are going on that educate people on the problems that exist in today’s society. However, not all museums have caught on to this trend. Many still use the same formats that separate and try to divide us. When museums have many floors, it is the Europeans and American history, art and culture that dominates. It is as if they are looking down on the minorities beneath them. Such realities leave us asking how museums can survive in the modern world.
The argument of whether “Smombies,” or smart phone zombies, are good for a museum or the bane of their existence, might give us some insight into how museums cope with digital modernity. According to Jonathan P. Bowen and Tula Giannini digitalism may work even better in places like museums, where they turn from just receiving the information to full participants in the information process. When entering the museum the same external roles flow internally seamlessly, so the same actions that happen on the outside happen on the inside, i.e. the change in the relationship of visitors from one of seeking and receiving information to full participants.
On the other hand, the argument can easily be made that if people focus on their phones, they will not focus on the object and pieces themselves. Thus, the phone distracts the viewer and directs their focus on the digital copy and away from the piece itself. This can easily be seen in recent works of art, like the Mona Lisa where everyone is preoccupied with taking pictures, and don’t appreciate the masterpiece before them. Whenever you focus on one thing, such as an electronic device, you are not focusing on what is in front of you, i.e. the exhibit.
According to Amber Case we have two different “selfs.” Therefore, it is not only our duty to educate your physical self, but we also need to educate our digital mind. We have an obligation to bring our digital self into the museum to allow them the same sort of education the physical body is receiving. Both our selfs should be present. While that may sound like a silly idea, but with the creation of the “wormhole,” there is a feeling that the world must know that your digital self has an education. However, with every argument there is always a counter argument that says to truly appreciate the works of art and the history that is waiting in the museum you need to cut yourself off from everything. After taking a few days off and away from the digital world we can reach a stage where we have separated from our devices. At that point we can fully appreciate the works in front of us – relaxed and ready to soak up everything.
These are all issues that need to be addressed from the top of the food chain all the way to the bottom. The consumers and viewers, patrons of the museums, need to open their mouths and speak about the issues and create dialogue. For a museum is not just about those designing and running it, but rather needs to include those who come in to see and want feel part of the museum. That is why it is just as important for the administration as well as the patron to address and discuss all possible solutions so that everyone gets the best experience and can get the most out of each and every visit.