In one of his last blog posts Thomas argued that university museums are basically elitist institutions.
Thomas argues that the basic success criterion for museums is the popularity of their exhibitions and number of visitors where on the other side the success criterion for a university museum is the quality and originality of their research. Of course I can’t speak on behalf of all the museums out there but I could easily imagine that many museum professionals could be offended by that statement. Actually I’m quite certain that a lot of great research is done by curators who are not employed by a university museum.
Anyways, as to quality and originality I totally agree. That is a worthy goal but something still troubles me. Especially the following sentence:
In other words, in contrast to museums in general, which are institutions with a broad, popular appeal, ’university museums’ are basically elitist institutions.
What does that actually mean and what happened to the idea of research to the benefit of the people? Was that just a crazy idea that some students back in the sixties and seventies used as a slogan?
When I hear the word elitist it triggers some very unfortunate associations. Who is the elite? What notions of power are we operating with here?
At the Medical Museion we have some fantastic collections. Don’t we have a duty to open them up for the general public in a way that could be understood also by people who are not college educated? There is a democratic principle in this that I fear might be lost if we chose to communicate in a way that only the elite can understand.
Also I really don’t buy the following sentence:
Better provide original solutions to small but fundamental display problems than build big and popular exhibitions.
There is absolutely no reason why these two should be in opposition to each other. Let’s make innovative and popular exhibitions. Access to the medical cultural inheritance should be as democratic as possible and not just something that is withheld for the elite.