Monday, July 16, 2012

Hub Is Historic First Step To Filling A Cultural Gap

On July 20th, activists in Durham, NC, where I live, are taking another significant step in filling a gap in the community’s otherwise rich non-profit arts and cultural sector that has long been identified by public opinion polls and master plans.

From 6 pm to 10 pm an open house will celebrate the up-fitting of a former bus transfer station in the center of downtown Durham to a History Hub, a work-in-progress  demonstration of what the real Museum of Durham History will hopefully become.

Below are 12 imperatives gleaned from a recent study forecasting the long-term relevance of museums such as the Museum of Durham History plans to become:

  • Far into the future, “museums will be places of cultural exchange in their communities…They will be one of the most powerful agents in helping all children understand the future and ensuring they are prepared to take leadership roles.”
  • “With educational attainment becoming a more visible tool of social mobility than ever, museums provide more opportunities than ever for [those] from less-educated families to gain exposure to topics that drive academic interest…As important players in the formal and informal education system, museums will…meet the rising expectations highly educated moms have for their children.”
  • In a world undergoing incredible change, “museums will educate the public on how past societies coped and adapted to tectonic shifts in their resources.  They will help society learn from history as we cope with a new era of expensive energy, lower consumptions, carbon constraint and climate change.”
  • “Museums are stable oases in the mist of turmoil…museums play an even greater role in sustaining the well-being of their communities during a prolonged downturn. Whether for the retiree managing lower post-retirement income than anticipated, or for schools with fewer enrichment opportunities for students, museums are there for their communities.”
  • “Museums play an important role in helping communities…reinvent themselves in the new knowledge-based economy. Responding to society's need for greater global awareness…promote dialog and understanding about other cultures and our place…”
  • “Museums are among the few institutions that bring together people of all economic classes…valued for their ability to redistribute wealth in the form of access to scientific, cultural and artistic resources, mitigating the cultural gap that arises from income disparities.”
  • “the fundamental human condition responds to a variant of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: The prevalence of the digital, virtual world raises public awareness of the increasingly rare world of non-digital assets that help tell the story of how humans got where we are.  Museums play  a more critical role than ever as purveyors of the authentic, addressing a human desire for the real as the wonders of technology march us towards the opposite path.”
  • “…Museums provide common experiences for diverse audiences, serving as safe public spaces for civic dialogue. As one of the most trusted sources of information, museums help people navigate the vast new world of information by filtering and validating credible content.”
  • “Museums…play a vital role in nurturing, documenting, organizing, interpreting and making accessible…creative output…They are repositories of knowledge about traditional craft, sources of inspiration for new designs and processes, and through their collections and exhibitions” they are “validators of new.”
  • “museums provide unique opportunities for today’s youth to exercise their gaming skills and satisfy their expectations for immersive narrative.  This increases their engagement with museums but also the community and the world, providing levels of social and global awareness they might not otherwise absorb while sitting in front of a screen.”
  • “Museums will be oases of the real in an increasingly virtual world.  Along with the outdoors and places of worship, museums represent the best opportunity for getting away from it all.”

It was clear to me from a now concluded four-decade career focused on marketing communities to visitors, including newcomers and relocating or start-up executives, that local history museums uniquely provide a place where existing residents, visitors and newcomers can explore the soul of a community and appreciate and perpetuate the temporal values and traits that make a community unique and distinct.

They are essential to place-making.  They engage all five modes of cultural involvement including inventive participation, interpretive participation, curatorial participation, observational participation and ambient participation.

Congratulations to my friends on the Museum of Durham History Board and to its first full-time director, Katie Spencer on this historic step.

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