How Should Museums Approach the Holidays?


I have mentioned before how much I love holidays, and for me, every December includes taking in some seasonal cultural events. With so many museums racing to put up trees and lights and toy trains, along with all the places you can hear free caroling, there are plenty of options.

Earlier this year, someone started a discussion on LinkedIn about the appropriateness of holiday displays and events at museums. As with most subjects, I think there are approaches more appropriate than others, and decisions to be made deliberately and not haphazardly. (After all, what could be more boring than a town where the art, science, and history museum all have the same hastily chosen, generic inflatable Santa?)

Below are some questions I would use to help guide the process of putting together holiday exhibits, decorations, and activities in a museum setting:

  • Does the programming fit the museum’s mission and content?
  • Are there opportunities to use objects in the museum’s collection in holiday programming?
  • If you are presenting from the perspective of your own tradition, are you doing so in a way that is welcoming to those who don’t share your tradition?
  • If you are presenting a tradition you don’t share, are you doing so with accuracy and respect?
  • If you are funded by a non-religious organization or (especially) if you are funded by the government, are you careful to present religious beliefs as beliefs and not facts?
  • Is your holiday programming held to the same standards of quality that you adhere to the rest of the year?

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this topic. What do you think needs to be considered when putting together holiday programs at a museum?

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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