Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
In this post, I’ll revive an argument that I raised in the journal Museum & Society. In an article co-authored with Nick Rowland (a former guest on this blog), we argued that it is unwise to use museums as an exemplar of institutional theory. According to the traditional view, museums are these completely malleable things that bend to the will of the institutional environment.
Instead, we argue that there is a technical core to museums that often asserts itself. For example, contemporary art often requires large spaces to installations. Museums that wish to preserve their art must have technology for controlling temperature and humidity. Modern museums also have systems for managing accounts, tracking attendance, and other tasks. We don’t argue that institutionalism is wrong, but that museums are not the “cultural dupes” that appear in the literature. Even cultural organizations have technical cores that must be integrated with their social environments.
I recently visited Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s not a terribly good museum, even though it covers a topic, rock and roll, which is very exciting. In this post, I’ll try to figure out what goes wrong.
It always helps to start with a discussion of what museums do. In general, they (a) entertain, (b) educate/inform/indoctrinate, and (c) act as an archive or research center. It’s pretty clear that the R&R Museum isn’t scholarly, so we have to think about how the museum tries to entertain or engage the audience, or tell the audience something.
Over the past few years, George Lucas has tried to find a home for his museum, which will house his personal collection of contemporary art and, of course, the deepest collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the world. At first, he tried his backyard, San Francisco, before choosing the city of Chicago.
It turns out the move to Chicago won’t be worry free. Apparently, a coalition of Bears fans will try to stop the Lucas Museum from locating itself next to soldier field. From artnet.com:
The group fighting for maintaining public and open space claims that Lucas’s plans for a 95,000-square-foot cultural institution are in direct violation of a city ordinance that ensures that space adjacent to Lake Michigan be reserved for public use. The other group threatening to sue over the choice of location for the museum—which will house artworks from Lucas’s private collection including pieces by Maxfield Parrish, Alberto Vargas, and Norman Rockwell, as well as Star Wars memorabilia—has a much more practical reason for its opposition: The institution would be built on a site that is currently devoted to two parking lots next to Soldier Field use by Bears fans for pregame tailgating.
This nicely illustrates how organizations fit into urban systems. First, there are the overt politics of an organization. Is it welcome? Does it flaunt public values? Second, how does it fit into the “spontaneous order” of urban politics? While the planner in the mayor’s office probably saw an ugly parking lot, they didn’t see how locals use the space for the very emotionally rooted rituals, like football. Later in the article, various people are quoted as saying that they welcome the Lucas museum, but maybe it should be used to develop low income neighborhoods. Thus, the Lucas Museum has been punted from being part of the “urban engine” of sports and entertainment and thrown into the domain of Chicago race politics. It will be interesting to see if Lucas sidesteps this, or is drawn into another development quagmire.
This week, we’ll have a series of posts dedicated to museums. Some will be personal, others academic. Here’s the line up:
- Tuesday: The trials of the George Lucas museum.
- Wednesday: Why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could be better.
- Thursday: The limits of institutional theory as applied to museums.
- Friday: What the Creationism Museum in Kentucky tells us about social movements.
For some, it’ll be better than shark week.