Olu Oguibe, speaking at the Museums of Tomorrow symposium,
October 6, 2003
When I was a little boy living in Washington, D.C., a day at the museums was call for rejoicing. A museum, after all, was kinda like getting to spend a day at what I thought college might be like – a place where nothing was dumbed down, and you were getting all the same information as the adults around you. In other words, it was like a place of higher learning, and in the case of WDC, museums almost always meant The Smithsonian, which weren’t just your local museums, they were the Museums of the Nation, which meant (or so one might think) that you were getting the best possible information anywhere.
These days, however, I have to say that most of the time I spend in a museum is either a) for work, reviewing a show or whatever, or b) taking someone from out of town to see how damn cultured we are around here. I just have so many more info-tainment possibilities these days, what with the Internet, 9000 cable channels, Bit Torrent, Second Life and however many ways YOU spend time sucking up your daily regimen of digital bandwidth.
Recently it came to my attention that it’s hard to know how to promote an experience like going to a Museum if you don’t have a really clear idea of what a Museum is for. Is it a learning space? A social space? Is it just somewhere with good air-conditioning and a place to take out of town guests? What is the purpose of a Museum FOR, anyway? We know it houses objects, but how should those objects be viewed? Is it enough (like the Louvre) to simply visit them online?
Fortunately for you and me, other people think about this stuff TOO. Thinking about this, I started asking around, and it seems that this conversation has been had, more or less *here*, (though actually online - go figure.) Hosted by Georgia O’Keefe Museum's Modern Arts Research Center, an online symposium called Museums of Tomorrow was convened to have this very conversation. One of the key points discussed in the text is how the very things I turn to when I’m not going to museums are creating Pop-oriented shows inside museums as a way of luring me back into the fold. Such shows, (I’m not going to name specific examples in New Mexico because I have to live here) more or less undermine the value of the Museum as an arbiter of culture – or do they?
A truly lively discussion about these topics appears online – if you thought global warming was a complex issue, wait’ll you read a room full of museum academics discussing the challenges that face Museums these days! (It's enough to make you want to spend more time building your avatar in Second Life.) And if reading the online text seems like a bit much, the entire conversation is available as a book. You can pick up “Museums of Tomorrow: A Virtual Discussion” at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Shop, 113 Johnson Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico for just $14.95