A week or so ago, a friend and museum colleague posted a link on Facebook to this article published in the Denver Business Journal. It is an opinion piece by David Sneed, CEO of Alpine Fencing. From viewing his company’s website—which offers a nice variety of fences for any of your neighborly needs—I think he would qualify as a typical “joe public” museum goer. This is someone we as museum professionals want hear from. How else will we be able to be relevant to a wider population? We must know what our patrons think, what they want and we should deliver, right?
The title of Mr. Sneed’s article is “Must All Museums Be Geared to Four Year Olds?” and he relates an experience he had at The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago where, to put it in a nutshell, the interactives provided for the public were more a distraction than anything else. I’ll let you read the article for yourself. He touched on the fact that if the interactives work at all, they make a lot of noise and become more of what the museum is about than its collections.
Now, let’s reread the article by CNN travel writer James Durston about which I wrote a couple of months ago. He wrote that he hates museums and how they are boring and snobby. I agreed with him, and still do, they can be boring and snobby. Heck, museum staff can be so boring and snobby that it makes me want to run the other way—no offense to my colleagues, but I know you know what I mean.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to put Messrs. Sneed and Durston in a room and get them talking? They seem to be at opposite ends of the museum going spectrum. One yearns for the expertise, the sophistication of a museum where artifacts are taken seriously, where the other wants more life, more popular relevance in exhibits. At first, when I considered these two articles I thought, this is the root of our greatest challenge— the fickle public. Advertising folks, Hollywood execs, and marketing firms all know that the public can change its taste in less time than it takes for a hipster to grow a beard.
Can museums and historic sites serve these two seemingly divergent audiences? Or should we just try to focus on one or the other?