Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Museums Advocacy Day

Museums Advocacy Day sponsored by the American Association of Museums encourages professionals and supporters to speak up for museums and to promote policy issues affecting the field. Focused around events taking place today at the U.S. Capitol, Museums Advocacy gives colleagues a chance to network and meet with Congressional offices to discuss the impact museums have on our society. 
On Twitter, supporters are linking museums to the mainstay reasons we always cite for the purpose of garnering support; Museums are vital for education, community development, culture, economics and more. But one tweet jumped out at me. It made the mission to save museum funding more personal:  "Has a museum improved your life? Tweet about it today with @' hashtag:” This question shot my mind back in time. I thought about how museums first improved MY life. I remembered one of the local museums near where I grew up. I remembered experiencing the wonderment for the very first time that I now feel whenever I go to a museum.  

The Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, NY seemed far removed from my world. When I first visited the museum with my mother, the opulence of the residence in its beautiful setting was bewildering to a young person's eyes. I enjoyed the place as an historic structure with an "otherness" that seemed untouchable yet intriguing. It was the stories of the people inside that made the museum shine for me. It was my opportunity to volunteer at the Estate through a national honor society program that introduced me to new ideas about deciphering stories through collections. This hooked me into the value of museum going and untangling history through historical resources. 

I was welcomed to the Vanderbilt by the Director who gave me a tour of the facility and let me see William K. Vanderbilt through her eyes.  While the director helped me develop a burgeoning interest in history and art, the place she opened to me could have had a similar impact on someone interested in the sciences due to the museum's diverse collections.The scrapbooks she entrusted to me covered many family stories ranging from the collecting of objects related to natural history, to the building of a Long Island highway so that the Vanderbilts could explore their passion for automobiles by racing them, to the family scandals. The many hours I put into the scrapbooks were many hours getting to know the family. The museum was a shell for their stories. It became a place of many ghosts. It became to me a monument to those who helped build my community. It became my own place of exploration. 

A museum's value is in connecting its visitors with the untouchable, making it seem approachable. A museum's value is also in offering a new perspective on the things we thought we knew, making the mundane seem special. Museums help us explore our place in the world and can help us understand that we have various paths that we can take based on our own personal choices.  The value of a museum is in the capacity of its collections for verity and to offer alternate perspectives on reality. The value of a museum is also in the capacity of its staff to unlock those stories to encourage its visitors to engage with diverse ideas.  Museums need support to reach their potential audiences. Everyone should have an opportunity to engage directly with a museum as I did when I was a teenager. Museums Advocacy invites you to share your stories to support museums as they support you. Please share: How has a museum improved your life?

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