Can what museums choose to exhibit or promote define the character of their cities?

Lately, I have been thinking about the relationship between museums and cities, and how museums support or impact their cities. As part of this exploration, I picked up Gail Lord and Ngaire Blankenberg’s recent book, Cities, Museums, and Soft Power. This book explores questions of cultural capital, and the ways in which museums wield power. The book makes…

Should we accept this gift?

A month ago, a donor offered to buy the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum life-sized replicas of three dinosaur heads: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Allosaurus, and Velociraptor. This offer coincided with a decision to re-envision the display on our Sand Porch. The Sand Porch features a sand table with kinetic sand, which children love and play with for hours.…

When do we edit participation?

Last week, in honor of Bastille Day, we opened the PlayHouse Art Room to the public with a flag-making activity. We saw a range of flags created by kids and parents. As I share them, imagine some music playing, something vaguely patriotic but from an imaginary or unknown country. There were French-inspired flags: There were PlayHouse…

When does the risk of misunderstanding outweigh the value of an activity or program?

Franke L. Smith is an Education Coordinator at Hickory Hill, a Watson-Brown Foundation historic home, near Augusta, Georgia. At the American Alliance of Museums conference in May, Franke and I began a conversation about a program she offers, and whether and why it may be controversial. This program, “Cotton Pickin’ Field Trip,” teaches students about the history of…

Should museum professionals get into museums for free?

One of the great perks of working in the museum field is free entry into other museums. I recently went to Indianapolis, and visited three museums in two days. The cost of visiting these three museums, for just one person, was $51.50. But, being an “insider” in the museum world, I called a colleague before going to one museum, and…

How can museums foster empathy?

The other day my 11-year-old son told me, “Poor people are poor because they don’t try hard enough.” I hope that he said this just to provoke me into debate (like mother like son). But the truth is, I think that empathy is something that he – like many people – struggles with. Intellectual smarts,…

What is an ethical museum?

In early December, I wrote a post considering whether and how museums should respond to the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York. My response was, and remains, that before they can respond to moments of political crisis, museums must create intentionally ethical and self-critical ways of operating. A few weeks after…