I recently had a conversation with a friend about museums after seeing a news article about the Museum of Nature's plan to attract a hip, new crowd by hosting a nightclub party once a month. I thought it was a good idea in terms of a revenue stream but not necessarily in terms of creating museum patrons. She said “you only need to visit a museum once; once you have seen the exhibits, you have seen them so fresh ideas are great". I admit that I am a history geek but I was shocked. I went on to say that museums have new exhibits and acquire new objects but she was steadfast in her opinion that repeat visits to museums are only for "history people".
In keeping with that idea, in September, the Maple Ridge Historical Society had two world-class experts – Ian McLellan and Brent Cooke – come to work with them to discuss what they need to build a new museum in Maple Ridge. Three of the most thought provoking questions they asked were:
- If the museum/archives were to disappear, who (other than those in the room) would care?
- If museum/archives are not an essential service, how do museum/archives become one?
- How does the community perceive museum/archives?
The facebook group We Call it Haney provides an insight into just that concept. In conversation with Val Patenaude, the director of the Maple Ridge Museum, she said the themes that reappear are buildings and events from when people were children and teenagers. The buildings themselves may not hold historic value in the traditional sense but they have an emotional value: schools, theatres, sporting events, and the 45 year old red bells that decorate the streets every Christmas.
I believe that museums/archives can be community hubs; places that offer different generations the opportunity to interact and connect and newcomers a chance to find a sense of belonging. Social media is a great place to create a virtual community but museums/archives need space to store the objects and documents to fuel the digital community. History also extends beyond the walls of institutions and into the streets and collective memories of its citizens. The trick is how to capture and support that community feeling.
How about you? Do you visit your community museum or do you view it as a tourist destination? How do you think museums/archives could become community hubs? Do you think historic buildings should be preserved?