There Goes the Neighborhood

I have been trying to identify what I took away from our soggy field trip from Wednesday. Maybe it was the weather, outdated exhibits, or our..interesting? docent, but overall, the experience elucidated the numerous struggles museums are facing. I stumbled across this article which touches on the challenges city museums are facing and suggests how professionals within those institutions can overcome those challenges.  Duke Homestead and Stagville had their issues. Those issues were further compounded by their rural locations. The dichotomy between “rural” and “city” museums is apparent, not only in physicality, but also the unique set of struggles each institution faces.

Getting back to the article, Cities are by nature constantly evolving. Influxes of capital, people, and ideas, follow boom and bust cycles. How can city museums cope? Changes in audience, communities, and location came to my mind. If a museum has occupied a particular location in a city for the past 50 years, they would know their audience and community. Lets say that museums location happens to be in a deteriorating city center and over the past few years efforts to beautify the area have burgeoned. Real estate investors snatch up property, former residents and neighborhoods vanish in the wake of boutique coffee shops and record stores (I’m looking at you hipsters!). The museum is now presented with a new community and a new audience with new stories and new artifacts. What strategies might be employed by museum professionals to establish new relationships with the changed community while maintaining ties to their original visitorship? Community partners, active collecting, and outreach become critical. I know these changes in communal shifts and landscape do not happen overnight. Even if it takes 20 years, museums still face these “rapid” changes.

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2 thoughts on “There Goes the Neighborhood

  1. This article was encouraging for me to read, as I can’t say that I have ever been very interested in city museums, but was very intrigued after the History Hub. I’m sure it was partially just its impressively modern design, but the History Hub, although small and relatively new, was a fantastic museum to visit on Wednesday. After reading this article, I do think that part of its importance is that it is a city museum. Just like the author of this article described with the City of Amsterdam Museum, it “helped me get oriented, explore the city, and dive deeper into the city and its patterns.” I did feel like a better understood Durham better after going to the museum, making me feel a little more of an attachment to the city. I think the biggest struggle with city museums as with many other museums is keeping it relevant and updated. Our time on Wednesday made me see the great importance in keeping a museum relevant especially a city museum.

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  2. In hindsight, I wish y’all could have been up front at Duke Homestead when I was talking with the site manager and assistant manager about their efforts to evolve the programmatic offerings to meet new audiences and downtown sensibilities. They’re thinking deeply about this!

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