The role of museums is to serve society as a cultural, educational and historical institution. Museums no longer exist merely for the acquisition, preservation and simple exhibition of artifacts. They are developing an increasing role in the cultural revitalization and global sophistication of our society; they provide society with answers to important questions (Who am I and where did I come from?). Likewise, museums provide a means for a broad spectrum of visitors to gain worldly wisdom and enjoy global adventures that may have otherwise been implausible. The biggest issue in the evolution of museums is maintaining relevancy within a rapidly changing society.
Many museums and galleries suffer from what I refer to as the “Dusty Old Frame Effect”. Museums are maintaining their collections but are not helping their collections maintain their relevancy. It is no longer effective to have a mere cabinet of curiosities; people do not want to see things (dusty old frames) they want to know reasons (Why is this relevant to me and my life?). Museums must continue to show their artifacts and engage their visitors in ways that are relevant to today, tomorrow and the future. In order to evolve with our rapidly progressing culture, museums will need to embrace change. This evolution will include use of technology and new methods in exhibition development, increased collaborations with multiple institutions, innovative and hands-on programming as well as the use of social networking and media.
I envision that with imagination and a lot of effort museums can sustain and become even more beneficial tools than they have served to be in the past. If museums utilize all of the technological advances made available to them they will be able to attract larger and broader markets of visitors. In the future I see museums increasing the use of fully immersive exhibitions like those of the United States Holocaust Museum in which the visitor plays a role within the exhibit they are viewing. Recent generations of museum visitors have come to expect constant stimulation and activity and now expect that in their visits to museums as well. Museums, though classically a hands-off place, will begin evolving into hands-on learning experiences for visitors.
Most important will be the growing presence of collaboration within institutions, both within the non-profit sector and across multiple others. Collaboration enables museums to share knowledge, experience, resources and even marketing costs. Recent financial distress has made these relationships vital and occasionally profitable, especially within smaller regional museums. Collaborations and the use of social networking will continue to increase visibility to untapped or non-traditional markets of museum-goers. The successful evolution of the museum lies in increasing visibility and remaining relevant to the society of today.
This is a subject many museum folk could go on about for hours. The American Association of Museums has even created The Center for the Future of Museums. Lucky for you, I was limited to a 500 word essay that I care not to elaborate on at this time in the morning. The possibilities are endless, I just hope museums will keep thinking forward instead of sitting on valuable collections and not utilizing them to their full potential.