Over the past month or so a recurring topic has been floating in and out of my consideration so I’d thought I would share. It is the idea of museums as places, not just of learning and inspiration, but of rejuvenation and therapy. It started when a colleague returned from a trip to Europe full of excited stories about the new exhibition at the Rijksmuseum. Art is Therapy is not a typical exhibit where objects are selected for their relevance to a theme and displayed all together in a gallery. This show takes place throughout the museum, with commentary about the art and the space it inhabits posted adjacent to the objects which remain in their normal display areas. The underlying point of the show is to get people to go beyond looking at museum objects as special simply because they are made by a noted artist, or are particularly old or rare, but to appreciate them for how they make you feel regardless of provenance or pedigree.
Then, I read an article on Fast Company called How a Grown-Up Field Trip to a Museum Can Improve Your Work and Life. It used some of American Alliance of Museums’ talking points on the value of museums to make a convincing argument why you, and in particular businesses, should visit and support museums. Museums do everything from decrease social isolation to teach new skills to give you the same stress-relieving benefits as exercise. Wow! Sign me up! Oh, wait I work in a museum. Hmm.
Finally, I saw all of the above displayed in front of me just last week. I was attending the annual meeting of the Early American Industries Association. At these meetings, some of the time is taken up with visits to area museums and historic sites relevant to industry and trades in America. These trips have taken us to places like the Ledyard Sawmill in Connecticut, the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, and many others like them both large and small. Last week, one of our visits was to the McCarl Industrial Museum in Darlington, Pennsylvania, a town of fewer than 300 people. In the museum, volunteers had various steam powered engines running; one machine was a large water pump that used to irrigate a sizable plant nursery. Our visit was in the afternoon, which had grown increasingly warm and followed a morning of touring and presentations at Old Economy Village, so energy levels were starting to wane. All I had to do was look at my fellow attendees’ faces to see their delight; big grins, wide eyes and swiveling heads taking in the whir, pop and ka-chunk of the machines, to see the transformative effect of a museum.