The Creaking Sounds of The Old Hamster Wheel Turning

Writing in this blog was put on the back burner the last few weeks, but the old hamster wheel is still turning! I have been working on some possible research topics that I would like to dig into while I am in between jobs. One being the use of Photogrammetry to create three-dimensional images of objects in a museum collection. I have been sending out some feelers to try to gauge responses, and determine if the topic is worth digging into for local San Diego cultural institutions. Unfortunately I have not been getting the response I was hoping for, but I have some other ideas in the works. I may look to cultural institutions around the U.S. I would like to develop recommended guidelines and resources for institutions that are interested in incorporating photogrammetry into their digital programs. I’m not sure what it is about creating training guides and how-to’s, but I get some weird enjoyment out of it. I’m weird, but I digress. It was several months ago that while perusing Twitter I saw a tweet by Daniel Pett, the Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Mr. Pett shared some really great information on open source software and photography guides. I believe this warrants further investigation, and something that would change not only how museums create and make accessible online exhibitions and experiences for visitors, but the future of digital preservation. The topic has been discussed before, but I have yet to see any significant research conducted.

As I had mentioned in my past posts, I will be keeping my son home with me until I find full time employment. In the mean time, we will be spending a lot of time in Balboa Park. You see Balboa Park participates in a Military Appreciation Program where they give out free Balboa Park passes to Service Members and their Dependents, and my husband is an Marine in the United States Marine Corps. This Balboa Park pass allows its users to visit 17 institutions in the park at any time. I figured this would be the perfect way to keep us entertained and out of the house this summer. As part of this, I plan on doing a few write ups on our experiences. What these write ups will be about is to be determined.

Another subject I am really interested in writing about is pop up museums. Here in San Diego there is a pop up museum called Wonder Spaces that comes to town every summer. Wonder Spaces hosts a number of interactive and immersive art installations from artists around the world. I reached out to their Marketing Manager recently to see if they have any intention of collecting these art works and becoming a permanent museum. I am still waiting to hear back, but I am very interested to learn about the mechanisms in which this organization uses to operate, and how it compares to permanent museums. Last year the event was a big hit, and I suspect it will be again this year as well. I have tickets to visit later this week, so I will report back with some photos and a review of my experience. Creating interactive and immersive experiences is really popular with museum visitors, and something many cultural institutions already know and try to incorporate into their programs. However, the increase of pop up museums has also created some tension in the museum community. Some people argue that they are only pandering to a society that is self absorbed (i.e. The Museum of Selfies) and attention seeking (i.e. Instagrammable experiences like the Museum of Ice cream). Others argue that these pop ups fill a niche that permanent museums are either unable or unwilling to fill themselves. I am in the camp of both arguments, but it also begs the question of whether these pop up museums are really actually museums. Last summer I took a class on the History and Philosophy of Museums. At the beginning of this class, our instructor asked us to define what a museum was. My response is below:

“A museum is an institution that, in its service to society and its local community, collects and preserves objects related to its mission, makes its collections easily accessible to the public, and offers programs that both educate and engage its audience.

My definition of what a museum is draws on a few points made in the readings from this week. Some of these points include:

The Austrialian Bureau of Statistics’s definition of a museum which in part states that “a museum is a non profit making permanent institution in the service of society and of its development open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment” (What Is A Museum?, 2010)

Edward and Mary Alexander quote of Stephen Weil in his criticism of American museums, that “some benefit may be generated by providing the public with physical and intellectual access to the collections and thus accumulated” (Alexander, 2008, pg. 12).

Bob Mondello explains how “humans have a long history of preserving artifacts of the past” and quotes Ford Bell’s explanation of “Charles Willson Peale’s Cabinet of Curiosities in Philadelphia as a museum that was built around the desire to document the history of discovery in the new world” (Mondello, 2008).”

 

At the end of the course we were asked to define museums again. My response is below:

My definition of a museum from Week 1 is as follows:

A museum is an institution that, in its service to society and its local community, collects and preserves objects related to its mission, makes its collections easily accessible to the public, and offers programs that both educate and engage its audience.

While I can see how the definition of a museum varies based on time and geography, I don’t think I would change anything about my definition. However, accessibility would not have been part of the definition of a museum before they became available to the general public.

I did really enjoy seeing the evolution of what a museum is and how certain developments like the Enlightenment and Colonialism have had and continue to have such a deep and lasting impact on what drives museums today.
Now if you notice I did not mention non collecting organizations in that definition. This is really interesting to me, and I wish that I had picked up on it at the time. So I leave you with the question, what is a museum?

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