Recently, while attending a Symposium of Curators from around the world at the completely renovated the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, I came away with 5 important things that I wanted to share with you.
Museums are as alive as your level of interest
You can mindlessly wander through a museum, and if you do not stop and read the signs, and mentally engage with the items you find there, you will have missed the opportunities the experience afforded you.
A guided tour is often helpful to your transition from your busy life beyond the walls of the museum to the tranquil and thoughtful space that a museum offers.
Using your social media to carry the conversation on to your friends is a fun way to also engage with the individual items and stories you find in the museum.
Always, always, always discuss your museum findings, your thoughts and the ideas they spark with someone older and someone younger than yourself. The 360 degree of perspective will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine.
Museums have an almost impossible job of preserving history without skewing it with personal opinion
In our current world, it is a rare and wonderful thing to hear information as “just the facts.” Nearly every bit of “news” we consume has the taint of someone else’s opinion attached to it. Museums endeavor to take all opinionated content and commentary out of the viewers’ experiences.
This is an interesting challenge to ourselves, as we then share the information with our social media following, our friends and our families. Allowing others to come to their own un-guided conclusions, reactions and responses – and, respecting those things in others – can alter the course of all future interactions. And it might even alter the way you want to receive your news and other information. The freedom to decide for yourself is powerful and empowering, and may be life-changing, all because you visited a museum and emulated its example in the rest of your life.
Museums do the work that too many of us don’t want to do (especially the Millennial generation – sorry, Millennials, I know some of you are your families’ historians, but only a very few)
Museums value and preserve history, as it was and as it is, not as some might wish it to have been.
Many younger adults are not interested in the same items that their parents and grandparents held dear: physical photographs, heirlooms and family stories, myths, and legends that might make us uncomfortable viewed through today’s political correctness.
All things are cyclical, and when a generation comes along that would have valued these things, our museums are doing the difficult work of cataloging, recording and preserving the best and the worst of our times.
Museums that display firearms deserve a gold star for traversing the regulatory and stigmatization issues associated with guns
There is no time in human history when the tools used by humans were without importance. Tools have been used to both destroy and to build. Firearms are among the tools that humans have used for war and for food gathering and for self-defense. Yet, the current cultural trend toward stigmatizing firearms makes it difficult for museums to include those items in their collections.
Government regulations do not distinguish between a firearm retailer and a museum, which makes it difficult for curators to accept historical firearms, ordnance and artillery, and due to the legal difficulties and hurtles involved many museums simply decline to accept donations of such items into their collections.
The museums that do go the extra mile to bring these tools into their collection for the public to see, to consider and to discuss are doing an exceptional service to our children and to our children’s children. For example: Without the gun, would John Wilkes Booth still have assassinated President Abraham Lincoln? Without the gun, would US and Allied Forces have been successful in driving back and defeating the spread of Nazism? Without the gun ____ (fill in the blank)? These are thoughtful conversations that may not be sparked without guns and their unique histories presented in museums worldwide.
Museums have to embrace ‘interactive fun’ in order to stay relevant to the current generation
One of the most interesting new developments and challenges for museums is that interactive experiences are driving forces in enticing visitors to come view their collections. The video game world has made for a new audience of visitors who want to see the real gun (for example) that they use in their gaming experiences.
With all of our hand-held devices and smartphones, offering us instant entertainment at every moment of every day, museum curators have needed to harness that desire for interactive displays so that people feel that they “did something” at the museum.
Also, because so much of our daily interactions with the world have become digital and virtual, the more museums can offer hands-on, physical items that the public can touch and feel the richer the museum experience will be today and in the future.