Collegiate Museums

In thinking about the educative role museums can play in society, I have omitted the role of college and university museums.  This omission comes for a number of reasons:

  1. While my research applies to museums in general, my current focus is on the digital spaces created for art museums.  Of the 400+ colleges and universities that include a museum among their offerings, a large percentage of those museums serve more than one purpose:  art, science, history, or regional topics.  These museums should be included in research similar to my topic, but my current research methods focus extensively on museums whose primary purpose is art and culture.
  2. My interest looks at the museum and its opportunity to promote informal learning.  Here, informal is a general term, probably best defined by “not formal.”  Formal learning is curricular, with a teacher and a classroom, involving the explicit steering of a community toward goals and objectives.  Thus, I see a dichotomy between the purpose of a college or university and my interest in what a museum can afford.  The dichotomy is not large and can be taken into consideration when researching, but my methods are not yet developed to that point.
  3. The variance of discretionary spending associated with college or university museums is astounding.  For museums as a whole, it is estimated that five percent of museums receive more than half of the grants and fellowships bestowed to museums.  That creates a museum society of haves and have-nots.  The same exists in museums of higher education.  The Hammer Museum at UCLA boasts a internationally recognized proprietor, a nationally respected university, an impressive gallery space, and is housed in a higher-class area of one of the ten largest cities in the world. Until methods can be established to view the spaces along a more equal footing, to compare the Hammer to the majority of college museums that exist in smaller towns without the help of similar proprietors, universities, spaces and locations would not do service to either institution.

Museums of higher education should play an integral part in the development of learning models for real and virtual museum spaces.  I intended to assess a college museum as part of the Better Know a Digital Museum series today, but after visiting the website and looking for interactivity, did not think the experience would be helpful or fair to readers, the museum, or me.  Museums like the National Gallery of Art and the LACMA are wholly dedicated to their mission, a mission that starts with the museum and is supported by funding and staff dedicated to that operation.  A museum at a college is just one part of that school, and likely an extension of a school department, which is an extension of the academic sector, meaning that staffing is limited and money severely so.  It would make sense for such museums to embrace technology and digital spaces and utilize the academic brainpower inherent in the institution to create meaningful interaction opportunities between subject and object in a digital space, but such initiatives require infrastructure, and I would imagine many college museums are struggling to keep their doors open for patrons.  Movement in that direction through student research is a start.


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