Strategies for Public Programs

When thinking about this week’s theme of Accessibility I was reminded of the article Professor Smulyan highlighted in the JNBC Weekly News email, “Museums in the Age of Social,” by Karen Mittelman. The article is about how museums can and should integrate technology and social media into their exhibitions, as well as how museums are increasingly being used as town halls and public forums. This later point was particularly interesting to me as it made me think about the different approaches museums take for their public programming. Many museums orient public programming around exhibitions on view, with the idea of increasing exhibition attendance through related public programs. This perspective prioritizes exhibitions over other museum departments and functions in a way that the Mittleman article seems to indicate might be less effective in the modern age. While different museums may find their audiences through different strengths it is important to consider how practitioners versus visitors value the different offerings of a museum.

In terms of accessibility, offering content that is relatable and relevant to visitors is one way to make a museum more accessible. By freeing programming from the constraints of exhibition themes, museums will vastly increase their ability to respond to the most up-to-the-minute trends, questions, and topics relevant to their public. Even when exhibitions themselves touch on contemporary and local issues, exhibitions can take many months or even years to plan and install—meaning that they cannot as easily address the latest issues in the public sphere. Flexibility and improvisation are perhaps not words closely associated with museums in general, however public program and education departments, amongst others, could more easily lend themselves to these concepts. This is not at all to say that museums should stop programming related to exhibitions, especially as there are many perennial themes in history, but instead a suggestion that museums not feel beholden to programs strictly related to exhibitions. Providing spaces for productive, public conversation helps the community and can also help the museum, by increasing a sense of connection between the institution and the public and in doing so increasingly the accessibility and utility of the museum.

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