Making Museum Memories
Finding the perfect balance of historically relevant material as well as interesting material or making historically relevant material interesting have become issues of late. Sure, television shows can be culturally defining, but should they be? The answer is most certainly no. There is a time and a place for everything, including the most relevant television shows, but it is not to define generations. That is the reason that the television hall of fame was created or any other pop culture hall of fame for that matter. Insignificant American events such as who won American Idol or even the steroid scandal in baseball don’t deserve a place in museums outside of their own specialized ones.
A blend of creativity along with information needs to be relevant and I feel staff in a museum should be responsible for realizing that something might not be as interesting as something else. The events of 9/11 are something that I consider incredibly interesting on their own and feel creativity around them is not needed. The draw is there for me personally and I feel, because of the gravity of the situation, it is there for others as well. This ties in with other large incidents like the World Wars. They posses such a magnitude that they don’t need interactivity to draw in individuals.
This raises the question of how do we determine what is culturally important? Even if we can find something that is culturally important, how do we make it intriguing and memorable for the visitors? Do we place more relevance on things that are more interesting and can draw more visitors or do we stick to the so called “boring” exhibits that are full of culturally relevant and defining facts? The first thing to find is what makes something relevant to be in a museum. I feel that something that is so culturally significant that it affects everyone in a culture at a certain time becomes museum eligible. The terrorist attacks of September 11th are a clear cut choice of something that is museum worthy. But what about something like the exhibit the Neville Public museum displayed last year featuring the Hmong community and their struggles to get where they are today? This is a great example of something that doesn’t seem to garner a lot of interest outside of the main focus of the Hmong community or field trips from local grade schools around Green Bay. While the exhibit provides educational opportunities and provides a great background for the rising Hmong community in the area, it just doesn’t have the pull as something at the level of 9/11, yet holds the same amount of educational value, if not more because of how close to home it actually is. Is interactivity the answer here?
Interactivity does not have to be to the extent of the video game exhibit that the Neville featured right after the Hmong exhibit. While that is user friendly and offers a lot of interactive opportunities, there’s a time and a place for those types of museums, and it is not in public museums. Simple yet engaging is the key. The Hmong exhibit did have videos and the chance to learn a new language, but, while simple, it isn’t engaging enough. While the Neville may not be able to afford an elaborate interactive display, there were some things that could have been done. They assembled a traditional hut that many lived in in Laos or South Vietnam but it was only to be looked at. I feel that if individuals were allowed to enter it and explore to understand the living conditions that individuals experienced before coming to the United States. This still wouldn’t be enough for me though. As much as I hesitate to say it, there needs to be an exciting activity or something similar to a game in place of the “scavenger hunt” that was given to all the grade school aged children. I’m not saying something along the lines of the Holocaust Museum that determines if you live or die, but something engaging without the sensitivity of someone dying. Maybe it’s just an experience of watching a traditional Hmong food be created. Or maybe it’s playing a game that Hmong children in South Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, or China may haveplayed. It helps provide a better understanding of the culture and puts the children in a situation of understanding how children lived in South Vietnam.
I personally feel the there is even a place for selfies in museums. Another complaint I’ve been seeing with some of the readings and discussions of late is how some of the exhibits aren’t memorable and much of what happens in them is forgotten. This doesn’t mean that every age group has to take a selfie in an exhibit, but I feel like it would create a much more memorable experience for teenage visitors and even add a factor of “oh my goodness, they’re letting us do this? That’s so cool” which is something to not be overlooked. Sometimes it’s nice to appear edgy without actually being so. I mean, I’m even guilty of taking museum selfies myself.
The selfie that I took was taken at the geology museum on the UW-Madison campus. It helped me remember a lot of what I saw, which might seem weird, but it allowed me to have a picture association with the exhibit and, in a weird way, attached everything I saw that day to this one picture. As I write this and look at the picture, I have a vivid recollection of almost every thing I saw, from the various sulfides to the meteorites found throughout Wisconsin.
It doesn’t even have to be anything big that is put in place to help museums gain relevance again and to create interactivity and memorability. It isn’t about creating flashy exhibits with a ton of technology, but keeping it simple and not losing the intellectual integrity that comes with a museum exhibit. While a video game exhibit draws a lot of people, it doesn’t offer much in terms of intellectual integrity. Installing little things like allowing individuals to take a selfie next to some exhibits or even an interactive game instead of just a scavenger hunt for terms can be more intriguing and memorable. At the very least, at least someone might get a new profile picture out of it.