A Reading From: Center for the Future of Museums

This year’s annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums has been centered around the idea of telling a story. Storytelling is a vital part of the museum experience, and there are a variety of means by which a museum can tell a story. Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, offers an interesting take on museum storytelling.

Merrit discusses sharing the story of how the art in her institution was acquired with her guests. The history of art/object acquisition is often bloody and carries significant sociopolitical weight, thus leading to a great discussion opportunity in the gallery. This also raises a fair amount of questions.

Think of some of your favorite museums. How did they come to acquire the artifacts they display? Would these artifacts be better served on display closer to where they were found? Apart from that, how are you choosing to share stories in your institution? Are there more creative ways to share your museum’s story?

As always, we love to hear your feedback, be it in the comment section below or by email at phillyemp@gmail.com.

The Article

From the time I was small, I was teased about my love of stories: I eavesdropped on conversations at the grown-up table, snuck books into bathrooms when I became bored at parties, and acted in plays that I wrote with friends. Stories that I read and told shaped my life and continue to be central to who I am today.
I now tell stories in a different context: art museums. For the last three years, I have spent hundreds of hours researching and designing tours that tell the stories behind and around art objects. I share anecdotes about artists and the realities of their lives, and explain the political and social narratives surrounding different objects. If the piece in question makes reference to a particular text, myth or legend, I discuss the larger symbolic importance of that narrative to a people or a nation. These stories help the objects come alive for visitors, who are often looking for points of access for objects that come from unfamiliar cultures or time periods.
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