What is the role of collections in a 21st century museum?
Collections in twenty-first century museums allow scholars and the public alike to reexamine material and information of the past and encourage the audience to reorganize its categories of knowledge to better fit with its experience. A successful exhibition will prohibit the audience from fitting an experience into a limited information framework which can allow for the formation of misconceptions to arise and proliferate.
Reorganizing thought with regard to objects and information in this manner allows scholars and the public to learn about a history, a moment, a culture, a person and to rectify misconceptions which may have come about from exhibitions or publications of the past.
Twenty-first century museums have the capability to not only prohibit the audience from misunderstanding information but also to change viewers’ misconceptions and allow the audience to form new ideas. For example, in 1991 scholar Svetlana Alpers discussed how exhibitions can have a “museum effect” in which objects previously seen as artifact can, via a successful exhibit, be re-categorized as art in the minds of viewers.
Moreover, the preservation of objects and ideas allow for continued analysis as the theories and approaches change with modern thought and technology. What was thought about a collection twenty years ago has certainly changed with the advent of digitization and other processes which uncover new information from objects.
Through this re-examination of the past, modern museum exhibits collections have the power to lend insight into current social, political, and economic issues and even shed light on the future to come.
What do you feel are the most important elements in exhibit development?
I feel that the most important aspect of exhibition development is the functional phase which presents material and ideas planned in the conceptual phase to the audience in an understandable and exciting manner. For me, the most crucial and thus, the most difficult elements of exhibition development is creating an educational plan that speaks to a wide and general audience and designing a physical exhibition that is stimulating, engaging, and innovative. It is at this stage that the conceptual idea must be easily transferred to viewers with various backgrounds, educations, and reference points.
What relevance do history museums have to contemporary audiences?
The theories and philosophy inherent in the humanities and social sciences lay the groundwork for thought in science and technology disciplines. It is important to re-examine history in an effort to continually theorize on the past, thus informing and changing present-day thought.