Shut Out

I believe, that as museum professionals, we sometimes fall into the trap of losing perspective on what it is like to not be a part of this world. We sometimes forget that museums are not always these wonderful places where anyone can go to experience them on their own terms. We live in a world of informal education, where the visitor chooses to come and engage in learning on their own terms.  But how often do we stop to consider why someone may never want to step foot in a museum, or how their visit may be ruined by what they experience inside?

We could spend pages and pages discussing each demographic of human and what their potential roadblocks to museums may be, the community of those who are not comfortable in museums is a vast and diverse one. There are as many reasons to not come to a museum as there as to go.

The content of museums may feel too rigid, too intellectually or culturally daunting. The interior space might be a source of awe, just as it may instill a sense of dread. Museums may be removed from a physically accessible location, and once inside they might not be the most comfortable to traverse. Our audiences may struggle to approach our institutions as they may be fiscally out of reach, both in literal and societal ways. Professionalism within a space is a blessing and a curse, as is the presence of security guards and established rules. Are we frustrating or boring our audiences with what is presented? The list goes on, and on, and on.

When it comes to these communities who do not wish to be a part of museums, which actions do we take? Do we write them off as awaste of resources and our time? Do we do everything we can to be advocates for them? At what point do we decide to push forward or stop? These are all questions we are forced to ask ourselves. I cannot remember who it was that said, “curators think of the objects, educators think of the audience,” but it resonates strongly with me. It fits into our mantra of object based and audience centered learning, and because of it we absolutely need to be advocates for accessibility.

Museums have done things as simple as replacing the security guard uniforms with khakis and bowties., developing programming that address the needs of your varying audiences, and taking the initiative to study the community around them. We need to continue to remind ourselves and our peers that we are advocates for accessibility and accountability, that we are here to educate our audience, and ourselves in the process, by using the contents of the museum as a lens to push for higher goals in which to better our communities.

We occupy many roles in society, and we should try to be mindful of as many of them as we can. We need to consider our purpose to society, we need to not just consider our current purpose but our role to the public in the future, and constantly study and reflect upon those roles.

We must not lose sight of the museum’s role in society, we must not lose perspective of what it is like to not be a part of this field. It is easy to listen to those who love museums and cater what we offer to them, but we must never forget the voice of those who are not satisfied, as they will lend an honest opinion, for they have nothing to lose. We should be reflecting and engaging in dialogue with our peers and those who are uncomfortable and unsatisfied, following up with them to see if things have changed and pondering on what we can do in the future to be more accessible to our audiences. Please don’t forget what it was like to be an outsider, don’t ever forget those who don’t feel welcome.

6 thoughts on “Shut Out

  1. annastewartgwu

    I feel like this is a difficult topic maybe because it is so broad. The question of where to draw the line resonates throughout. Museums can reach out to communities that might not feel welcome for various reasons, but is it their responsibility to reach out to those that just plain aren’t interested? Museums can offer exciting and engaging programs on a myriad of topics to try to reach different audiences, but museums are still an opt-in activity. It seems that resources might be better spent on trying to accommodate those that have low English literacy levels, dementia, or other physical obstacles,etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patty Arteaga

    I agree with Anna on her response that museums are not for everyone. Why try to cater and force someone in if they don’t want to? I understand where you are coming from in stating that there is a hindrance for some to even walk in through the doors because of this “distance”, but there are many that just want no part of what we see as a museum. I really took great meaning out of our marketing guest speaker about wasting resources on those that are not visitors already. While I do not agree fully 100% on that statement, I can’t help but think that there is incredible truth to that.


  3. abbyk23

    I agree with Anna and Patty that you’ll never be able to reach everyone–some people just don’t want the museum experience, no matter what it entails. However, I think it’s important to note that sometimes the fact of being an “outsider” by force (e.g. the museum is physically, intellectually, or fiscally out of reach) can convince a person or even a whole community that they aren’t interested in anything the museum could ever offer. Is it this particular audience you’re thinking of, Maxwell? With that kind of audience, I’d imagine you’d have to start with out reach (bringing the museum to them) to change their perceptions of museums and then possibly entice them to go to one on their own. It’s here that I diverge from what the marketing guest speaker said about using resources on non-visitors. I don’t think museums should try to be all things to all people, but I do think there some potential “converts” out there who just don’t realize that museums don’t all fit the stereotype they have in mind–or at least, they don’t have to.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kitsa179

    I have to agree with the comments thus far. I loved the in class discussion that we had about making museums and programming appealing to various audiences who may not attend a museum normally. Here are three articles that I read for my museum management class that I thought went along with Maxwell’s audience and some of the issues we discussed:

    It’s a matter of getting people to walk through the front door…and then once they do, offering them a chance to see that there is something there for THEM…and still there is the reality that not all museums will appeal to all people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. joshamaxwell Post author

    I think Abby hit the nail on the head with where I was trying to go with my presentation and writing. There is of course no way that museums will appeal to all people, it just will not happen, however there are a myriad of reasons why people may feel pushed away from our institutions. Whether it is an intimidation brought on by social, intellectual, or economic reasons or some occurrence within the space that makes a good experience an awful one. The changes made don’t have to be major overhauls, they can be things as simple as changing uniforms, information desk placement, or monitoring lighting transitions between exhibition spaces (I know the national portrait gallery has been struggling with this particular issue and drastic shifts in lighting). I apologize if I failed to get to those points, only so much time in the presentation. I realize that this will never be our top audience, none of our chosen audience topics will be, if anything they are even more niche just because of how specific they can get, but as we have seen time and time again, resources have been allocated in an attempt to make things easier for them. I’m not proposing that we try to be everything to everybody, just that we try to always try to be that whisper of advocacy for all of these audiences when money says otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. valeriebundy

    What has been resonating with me through out this entire course and coinciding blog is with all the different types of audiences, (that Maxwell might refer to as niche audiences) generally all the things we as museum educators and museum people need to do resonate with everyone across the board. Museums might be intimidating, unwelcoming, and inaccessible places for a numerous reasons to all people: physical, mental, social, economical, cultural. It comes down to those working in the museum field (not just educators!) needing to be aware of these issues (Which this class and blog are doing a great job of drawing attention to) and working in a way that keeps all visitors in mind. Because ultimately all visitors are in need of the same things: Comfort, confidence, and choice when it comes to museums.

    Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s