Go Big or Go Home….or Not?

Today I sat down and began perusing a few of the museum blogs I follow and found a very controversial article by the CNN Senior Travel Producer entitled “Opinion: Why I Hate Museums”. Always up for a good argument, I clicked on the provided hyperlink and read the article. I will admit that I was aghast. How could someone say such things?! Why would someone seem to encourage people to ignore educational endeavors?! How could someone discredit an effort so noble as preserving humanity’s history and heritage?!

Then I thought about my museum experiences I’ve had throughout my life.

I’ve been bored…

I’m not proud to admit it, but in museums varying from historic forts even to European museums, I’ve lost interest. I have a ton of pictures of old vases and statues in Athens (yes, Greece), but I can’t tell you much about them. (Hint: If you find something you like in a museum, take a picture of the label, because if it’s a long vacation, you’ll forget).

But I’ve been to some AWESOME museums as well! I love museums; I really do. Here are some of the things that make for an awesome museum, in my opinion.

1. The objects and labels tell a story. They work together to keep you looking, asking questions, and moving through the exhibit.

2. Entertaining docents can make a museum experience. Now, I would not want a guided trip through the Smithsonian, but, especially in historic homes, docents (or historic interpreters) can make a big difference. They help you relate to structures and objects. They share their expertise with you and get you participating in what you see.

3. Honestly, I prefer small museums (hence the title of this post). I enjoy the 45 minute to hour tour. When faced with a huge museum, I hurry through the exhibits I don’t care about, skip some altogether, and take time to fully examine the exhibits in which I’m interested. This provides me with incredibly positive experiences. In contrast, small museums are intimate. They allow for the staff to really share a piece of themselves and their enthusiasm about their collection with you. Additionally they have the time to create really cool rotating programs and exhibits.

Now, I realize that I just made the perfect case for The Whaley House, so I guess it’s a good thing I work here! But seriously, folks, the Whaley staff strives to improve the visitor experience by improving guided tours and thinking up interesting and engaging exhibits and programs. I suppose it’s a good thing I came across this article today, as I’m preparing for our House in Mourning program and exhibit. Programs are being finalized and exhibits are coming together. Be sure to stay tuned for the big reveal in the next couple of weeks!!

Before you go, however, I have a few questions. How do you remember your museum experiences? What are some good memories and what are some bad (no names, let’s be professional)? How can museums work to better engage with you? What might you like to see at the Whaley House? Let’s use this critical article as a learning opportunity and show this author that the Whaley Historic House Museum has it going on!

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