Monday, January 23, 2012

Community and Relevancy in Rural Museums

The latest issue of Curator: The Museum Journal was recently posted online.  This issue contained a number of interesting approaches to issues in the museum field.  One article I found particularly interesting was Rhianedd Smith's "Searching for "Community": Making English Rural History Collections Relevant Today."  The article can be read online here

Smith's work focuses on rural history museums in the United Kingdom, however her logic and the trends towards more active community engagement are applicable in Canada and in the museum community at large. The tendency of smaller museums to represent a single interpretation of the past is fairly common.  Many institutions struggle to include interpretations that will be representative of a culturally diverse area.  In Canada this may be in part be due to overarching Euro-Canadian history which has long been the dominate force in small museums.

So how does one make a rural or local heritage collection relevant to a wider audience? Smith provides case examples of some actions that have worked - outreach to a wider range of donors, focusing on the human element, using digital technology to reach a broader audience.  More strikingly, Smith highlights the need for flexibility.  There is no one size fits all outreach initiative that suit all organizations, however it is imperative that organizations look towards new programming and interpretation options.

Photo credit: Marion Doss

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