Today we are being asked to think about – and share – what we love about museums.
#ilovemuseums is a campaign aimed at getting us thinking about the value of built and cultural heritage and objects and the institutions that collect them.
Despite working in the museum sector for nearly 15 years I still find it difficult to answer that question.
As a social researcher I could take issue with being asked about this – it’s a loaded question as it starts with an assumption that one does actually love museums. And that means that it will only receive positive responses. There’s no #ihatemuseums day for those who would see our nation’s museums closed down and turned into shopping centres. Or no #whatcouldmuseumsdobetter day.
But maybe that’s overly cynical of me. I supposed I ought to play nicely and answer the question properly. Given that I do love museums, why do I love them so? There are a few reasons.
Museums have special things
They are repositories for objects and specimens which document our human journey, and that of our environments. These objects allow us to find out about ourselves, our ancestors and the world we live in. They aren’t pixels or sound bites. They’re real things.
Making objects talk
But objects on their own – collected, documented and wrapped up in store cupboards – can’t speak for themselves (okay, most of them can’t speak). We, as museum professionals, get to tell our audiences about those stories. As a consultant I help museums with this storytelling – we call it interpretation. Interpreting objects for visitors is what I do. And I love it.
A place for everyone to talk
One of my favourite trends in museums in recent years has been to release some of the constraints of who gets to select what story we choose to interpret for the visitor. Curators still hold a lot of sway when it comes to interpreting objects, but now everyday folk do as well. Consulting audiences about what they would like to see in museums means exhibits become more and more relevant to people’s lives.
What a great job
People often say they are jealous of my job, so I suppose I also love museums because they provide me with continued employment. They are amazing places to work – I feel privileged each time I step behind the scenes in a museum. I’m passionate about communicating that infectious enthusiasm I see in curators to the public.
In summary, what I love most about museums is the experiences they provide for visitors – access to culture, learning (in its broadest sense), inspiration and as places of reflection.
There’s an argument to say that the real value of museums is their collections, and it’s true that without the objects museums wouldn’t exist. But they wouldn’t exist without visitors either.
Why do I love museums? It’s because you love museums.