The Future of Cities and the “Social Museum”

Over the past few weeks we have discussed the future of museums. This article furthers those conversations in an interesting way by considering the relationship between museums and cities. As cities and urban centers continue to expand, they become increasingly diversified, stratified, and tense (the author offers the recent attacks in Paris as an example). The integration of the museum into the community is of crucial focus. We have seen the projected statistics for the Minority Majority. We have seen the spread of a global community fostered by digital interactions. We have seen more of our green landscapes recede, giving way to concrete and McMansions. Can there be a space for respite? Can there be a place for a diverse audiences to come together and discuss these concerns in a physical or digital forum? Yes, the museum. I suppose that is a logical assumption for us though. The article covers a lot of the hot button issues museums of the future are facing, from community building to innovative exhibits. The author also offers examples of “top down” and “bottom up” museums. What interested me about the article, was the author’s implicit hinting at a reciprocal relationship between museums and the community. We know museums provide resources to the community as places to rejuvenate, tackle difficult conversations, and give voice to untold narratives. Consequently, the community also provides resources to museums (beyond money and warm bodies). They provide stories, opinions, artifacts, and an impetus to change the institutionalized nature of museums. The question that came to mind when I considered this relationship was how we as fledgling museums professionals can leverage the value of this relationship to enact change.  Jeremiah and Mike told us about the resistance to change we can expect to encounter from board members and shareholders. Mike also focused on marketing. After reading this article, I came to a hard question: When facing such resistance while attempting to diversify and integrate museums into new communities, is there a marketability of the community beyond the fiscal realm to a board of directors? Is it morally appropriate to market the community as an asset to the museum? Just to be clear, I am not advocating for the commodification of the communities museums serve. I guess I am questioning how much communities have already been commodified by gauging the success of a museum on attendance numbers and ticket sales.


One thought on “The Future of Cities and the “Social Museum”

  1. That’s a tough question. Boards, agencies, and funders want tangible returns. It may not be cash, but it has to be hard numbers. And they want evidence of growth… more members, more entrance fees, more visitors from last year.

    One theme that has come up a lot lately is the necessity for leadership and for the need for comprehensive staff buy in. Leaders have to convince staff that intangible, immeasureable, social good (or whatever) is a worthy outcome. As Michael suggested… your crusading self isn’t going to make this happen!

    But that leaves us still needing funding. An individual donor (like the Levine family in Charlotte) who values these things would work. But their ain’t many Levines around. Grant funding can offer some support for discrete initiatives. They require numbers, but as you know with the NEH grant, they also value dialog. Plus, boards like incoming grant money.

    You should absolutely bring this up when Jennifer Farley visits in a couple of weeks. I invited her specifically because she’s grappling with issues of revenue streams, budgets, and costs per visitor that Jeremiah only hinted at.


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