Charting a Course for Home
Here we are in the middle of week three! As I come down the final stretch, my thoughts are inevitably turning homeward. I’m double-checking travel plans, making arrangements for our class party on Friday, and occasionally thinking about that large inbox of work e-mails in need of replies. Yet, there is still much to do here in the final days of SHA. During these final few days, my task is to start synthesizing the parts of what I’ve learned into a feasible whole. What course do I chart from here?
I presently work at Mystic Seaport, where I serve as a supervisor for interpretive programs. We are in the early stages of developing a new strategic plan for our institution, and are also constructing a new 5000 square-foot exhibition building. These projects offer an opportunity for creative thinking and fresh ideas.
Yesterday, we spent the day with Susan West Montgomery of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Marsh Davis of Indiana Landmarks. Marsh gave us a lovely tour of his institution’s headquarters, located at the former Central Avenue Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Thanks to some tremendously generous individuals, the building is stunning inside and out. Beyond the aesthetics, the building provides a wonderful venue for concerts, meetings, and other performing arts events. He also took us through the Morris-Butler House, a lovely Second-Empire style home that is transitioning from a traditional house museum to a multipurpose event rental space conducive to smaller, more intimate gatherings.
During our discussions in the afternoon, Susan noted a growing sentiment in our field – “the period of relevance is now.” This point has struck a chord with me. Humans are not static by nature – we are constantly changing, growing, and trying to adapt to new situations. Why should our historic sites be any
different? If the needs of our communities change, is it up to us to change too? When done well, preservation efforts can both strengthen an institution and the communities surrounding it.
Building on this idea, Tim Grove of the National Air and Space Museum joined us on Tuesday morning to discuss recent technology trends in museums. He raised many interesting philosophical questions about user-generated content. Is a history museum best understood as an authority, a forum, or both? What is the right balance?
In the afternoon, Larry Yerdon of Straberry Banke Museum took us through an institutional case study to develop a new operating model for a history organization that was facing some challenges. He reminded us of the importance of looking both inward and out. Looking inward requires a
willingness to be honest about where the proverbial belt can be tightened, while looking out entails identifying community needs and aligning our efforts towards meeting them. As Burt Logan reminded us in his keynote address, a museum cannot thrive by simply “being about something,” it must also be “about somebody.”
As I chart my course home (pardon the nautical references), I know that as my institution moves forward, we must not only look after our own assets, but also strive to be an asset to the communities we serve. Looking outward may help us understand ourselves better. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– Erik Ingmundson