The museum profession is a small field; institutions tend to be very collaborative as we try to figure out how to reach new and returning visitors. At the Ohio History Connection, we have been experimenting with new ways to get as much of our permanent collection on exhibit as possible as we work to renovate portions of the museum. Our curators have been researching what has worked in other museums to make their collections accessible to the public, but still ensuring the objects’ safety. Recently, three colleagues and I had the opportunity to visit five museums in New York City to meet with other museum professionals and learn how they are using new techniques and display methods to reach new and returning audiences.
Our first stop was at the Queens Museum, located in the New York City Building that was constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair. The museum features large collections from the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs in addition to materials from communities located in the Queens borough. The Queens Museum has worked to create exhibits to display as much as possible of their large collection from the World’s Fairs including the Panorama of the City of New York that spans 9,335 square feet.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the two Luce Center for American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum. The centers “make available for inspection those American fine art and decorative art objects that are not currently on view in the Museum galleries and period rooms or that are on loan to other institutions.” The displays invite visitors to explore the history of an object beyond what is written on a label. Thousands of objects are on exhibit; computer terminals are set up for visitors to find out more about the collections. We explored how these museums exhibit paintings, decorative arts, and other objects and the conservation challenges associated with constantly having objects on exhibit in light.
The New York Historical Society is working to bring object accessibility to children through the Dimenna Children’s History Museum. Throughout the entire interactive exhibit, objects from the permanent collection are placed to engage children in conversation about the meaning behind textiles, tools, archival material, and other objects found in the permanent collection. Visitors take on the role of “history detective” learning more about the objects along their trip through the exhibit.
We ended our trip on a high note at the American Museum of Natural History. Though we did not see Neil deGrasse Tyson, we did get to spend time in the Hall of Biodiversity exploring how the museum exhibits hundreds of natural history specimens. The Spectrum of Life invites visitors to explore evolution through 28 living groups covering 3.5 billion years of evolution. Construction of this display involved scientists, artists, filmmakers, and educators, ensuring all learning styles would find something to relate to in this unique environment.
We learned a lot on the trip about what has and hasn’t worked for objects and accessibility to visitors. Of course we still managed to have some fun on the trip! Archaeology Collections Assistant Juli Six documented her travels with a replica Adena man, highlighting the pipe’s display in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
What types of objects do you like to see in these “visible storage” displays? Have you ever done additional research after seeing something that interested you in an exhibit?
Emily Lang, History Curator