Term Paper: Relationship of Museums to the Community

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Relationship of Museums to the Community

The objective of this work is to examine what part that museums play in the life of a community and what new roles and responsibilities are the museums in communities adopting and what are the possibilities. This work will examine whether museums within a community recognize the community's stake in the decision making processing and programs of the museum and what collaborative relationships have developed among museums and the communities in which they are located. This work will further answer the question of whether museum exhibitions may be objective or if they must inevitably express a point-of-view and who controls the collection of the museum as well as the exhibition process and point-of-view. This work will answer how museum collections and exhibitions define and reflect the identity of a community and who speaks for the community on interpretive issues. This work will examine how a museum might build on the intellectual potential of their collections as they seek new civic roles and how a successful museum-community exhibition collaborative might be measured. Finally this work will examine how museums can vest collections with new meanings and make them relevant to a modern audience and what the future of museums hold.

I. The CONTROVERSY of a MUSEUM DISPLAY

The work of Willard L. Boyd entitled: "Museums as Centers of Controversy" states that museums are often thought of as "places of objects..." when in reality museums are "places of ideas." (nd) Boyd states that objects found in nature tend to "give rise to human ideas about nature. Ideas give rise to the objects created by humans. Ideas are the principal means by which humans interact with objects in museums." (Boyd,

Boyd relates that "the simple display of an object" can in itself be controversial." (nd) While one might wonder how this could be, according to Boyd "when exhibits go beyond the 'wonder' of the object, standing alone and are designed to inform and stimulate visitor learning, they consciously invite controversy - as they should." (Boyd, nd)

II. HISTORICAL REVIEW of MUSEUMS

Boy relates that museums in ancient Greece and Egypt were "centers of speculation and research" and were the locations of study for scholars such as Plato, Aristotle, and Ptolemy in their studies of the natural world. Colleges and universities in the United States are organized "around collections of art, material culture, and natural science." (Boyd, nd; p.185) Boyd relates that one may trace the "roots of the Darwinian revolution" in collections such as those in the museum. Boyd holds that it is necessary that "consultation...be real, not cosmetic." (nd) the whole point behind consultation is learning and in order to do so required is listening with open mind and willingness to change if need be. Consultation offers expansion in both public and professional knowledge and understanding. (Boyd, nd; paraphrased)

III. AUTHORITY of RESTRICTIONS and REGULATIONS in MUSEUM

Boyd examines the profession of the museum and the "what and how" of the museum in terms of its collections which are "properly considered the province of the curator, whose professional judgment should be conclusive or at least accorded great weight." (nd; p. 189) Boyd points how that often, however, this is not the case with the judgment of the curator being questioned "even formally curtailed by government relations and peer ethical standards to which museums as institutions are primarily held responsible." (Boyd, nd; p. 189) Collections of the 1890s when compared to the 1990s in the view of Boyd are "unfettered" collections as compared to the restricted ones of the present. Museum and curatorial ethical codes has as of yet failed in the articulation of museum collection practices in terms of restrictions upon these while the national and international government actively promulgates restrictions on collections resulting in the governments and the public being represented hold a view of the curator of museums and those museums as being responsible for depriving them of both community and cultural heritage. Furthermore, the museum is often viewed as notorious for acquisition of objects that have been seized in wartime or stolen in times of peace by private and public as well as governmental entities. Boyd relates that public demand generally lead the direction of standards in ethics and in laws and regulations and public demand is known to be focused specifically on situations requiring redress. It is therefore, this reason that "after years of denial, we are now properly focused on the art seized by the Nazis from the Jews." (Boyd, nd; p. 190) AAMD guidelines are stated to have called upon the art museums to upon "immediately to review the provenance of works in their collections to attempt to ascertain whether any were unlawfully confiscated during the Nazi/World War II era and never restituted"..." (Boyd, nd; p.190) Prior to the ADAA issuance of the Nazi-looted art the provenance of many items of art were inadequate with failure on the part of museums in adherence to export and plundered treasures background checking. The Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) has stated that ADAA members will continue "to research the history of the works of art which they offer and make every effort to supply as complete and accurate a provenance as the available information permits. Like all art professions, ADAA members know that research into provenance is not a title search and there are frequently gaps in a provenance for perfectly legitimate reasons. Collectors may be assured, however, that ADAA members warrant good title for every work they sell, that research into the history of each work will be professionally conducted by dealers uniquely qualified to do so because of their specialize knowledge and experience in the field." (Boyd, nd; p. 192) Boyd relates the need of the museums and curators to incorporate acquisition policies that adhere to the principles of the international conventions of UNESCO on Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership in Cultural Property." upon the adoption of these same policies. Boyd relates that fact that some Greek fragments of a vase were reported "looted and illegally exported from an Italian tomb after Harvard adopted the essence of the UNESCO convention in its acquisition policy in 1971." (Boyd, nd; p.192) This museum's policy accepted 'reasonable assurance' that articles did not violate this policy however: "...many art historians and archaeologist, noting that up to 80% of antiquities on the market were looted in recent decades, insist on tougher standards. It is related by Boyd (nd) that the Globe article further stated that "Ethically, given the enormous amount of looted material on the market, we are obligated to presume these items to be guilty until they are demonstrated to be innocent and therefore the burden of proof should be on the purveyor of the object." (Boyd, nd; p. 192) the International Council of Museums ethical code stipulates: "A museum should not acquire, whether by purchase, gift, behest or exchange any object unless the governing body and responsible officer are satisfied that the museum can acquire a valid title to the specimen or object in question and that in particular it has not been acquired in, or exported from, its country of origin and/or any intermediate country in which it may have been legally owned [including the museum's own country] in violation of that country's laws." (Boyd, nd; p. 193) the ethical code further stipulates that in relation to material of a biological or geological nature that acquisition of the same should not be made by any direct or indirect means by the museum and this includes any specimen that has "been collected, sold or otherwise transferred in contravention of any national or international wildlife protection or natural history conservation law or treaty of the museum's own country or any other country except with the express consent of an appropriate outside legal or governmental authority." (Boyd, nd; p. 193) in order that these ethical code requirements are met the museums must take proactive measures in assuring that acquisitions they make are of 'good title'. In today's museum such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History "special hunting permits and waivers on import bans raise red flags for museums..." (Boyd, nd; 194) There are differences in opinion as to what is ethical in terms of the museum collection as shared by Boyd (nd) a recent sale of 'Sue' "the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever found..." To Field Museum for $8.4 million." (Boyd, nd; p.195)

Repatriation of collections that were acquisitioned prior to the laws and standards of ethics of the present are also focused upon and in the U.S. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act has been adopted by Congress. In relation to items acquired prior to certain policies and standards the discussions should center on the "circumstances, legal and otherwise, under which the museum took possession." (Boyd, nd; p.1976) Furthermore the laws and regulations existing at the time of the museum's acquisition of the objects should be considered. These discussions could have… [END OF PREVIEW]

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