The Water Hole, Hall of African Mammals, American Museum of Natural History
Dear Members, Friends and Supporters,
Many of my childhood memories were formed in New York City’s museums, zoos, and gardens. In those places I came to know the world outside of my constructed environment - about things that grow in fertile soil, not between cracks in concrete; places where fish swim in rivers unbounded by sea walls; creativity beyond paint on canvas; and how people live close to earth, not in boxes twenty stories above the ground.
Some of you know that I have a taxidermy fixation. I consider and reconsider why people choose to live with dead animals and how museums use taxidermy as interpretive vehicles. I admire the skills and imagination of great taxidermists and the juxtapositions created in museum installations. This pursuit has led me to museums I may never have visited aside from their taxidermy collections. I carry a map in my mind of The American Museum of Natural History whose dioramas can still ignite my sense of wonder about the variety of life on earth.
As a museum educator, I spent incalculable hours thinking about how people learn in museums, cultivating wonder, sharing knowledge, and helping visitors appreciate different perspectives. Last week The New York Times published Museums: A Special Report that included articles focused on how museums are moving beyond hardships exacerbated by the pandemic through work with their communities. The journalists offered excellent examples and touched on important issues facing our field, but referenced art museums almost exclusively and peppered their text with phrases that generalize museum practice. I don’t believe museum professionals were the intended readers as the articles outlined what many of us already know.
It may be tempting to put our memories of the past year behind us, but there is too much at stake to close the door on our multiple national crises. The question before us now is: How can we learn from our history and create professional practices in which centering community engagement is too routine to be the topic of a New York Times special report? The answers will most likely will be found by museum professionals listening, learning, and working in community while sharing their knowledge and experience with each other. We look forward to gathering together in the Fall in Partnership Forums to learn together and inspire the future of museums.
Registration will open on June 15 for grant writing workshops, Partnership Forums, a Museum and Folk Art Forum, and the Museum Institute at Great Camp Sagamore where we will explore “Partnership, Leadership, and Mentorship.” You can get a sneak peek of the exciting opportunities in the links above. Attendance will be limited, and all safety protocols established by the museums in which we will meet will be honored. We can’t wait to see you, learn together, and create new collective memories.
With thanks for your support,