Seven Recent Reads 2/23/14

  1. “what’s a museum attendant?” by a blogger named Alexandra at her Museum Attendants Diary blog. It appears to be the solitary (or only remaining) post from no later than 2010 about working in a museum in Moscow, but I only recently stumbled upon it. The writer gives a sardonic treatment to what has been my job in a few different museums. In my opinion, her most provocative statements are the following:
  • The less people touch artworks the better they become.
  • As an Attendant my biggest job is to produce shame in such occasions.
  • As this is a Modern Museum it hopes to nourish the “modern in all men” and truly believes that at the heart of the working-classes there is an aristocrat which Art in the museum-space awakens.
  • We represent a in-house big-brother that can be blamed for everything which has gone wrong. From the customers point of view we are the reason for their discomfort.
  • If you see a Attendant talking excitedly or gazing an artwork intensively you are seeing a bad worker.

As a museum visitor and/or a museum worker, do you see truth in these statements?

2. The book Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire. This reimagining of Snow White sets the story in early 16th-century Italy and casts Lucrezia Borgia and other members of her family as central characters. Lucrezia’s desire toward the end of the book to know everything is necessary to the plot, and it may fit historically with her patronage of arts and culture, but to me, it did not ring true after how she is portrayed for most of the book – bored, self-centered, incurious, and too busy feeling threatened by the rest of the world to be interested in understanding it.

3. “Revisiting the Borgias” by Elizabeth Merritt in the Center for the Future of Museums blog. Also on the subject of the infamous Borgias, this blog post asks whether museums can be democratic and inclusive even as they are funded by the top 1% in a society where the wealth gap is ever increasing. If the wealthiest people are funding museums, does this mean they are also shaping what museums say and do?

Corcoran Gallery of Art

Corcoran Gallery of Art

4. “The end of the Corcoran Gallery of Art” by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post. The news of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s downfall or reinvention (however you want to look at it) has been appearing on friends’ Facebook pages and letters to the editor of the Washington Post. Beholders differ on whether this development is good news or bad.

5. “Does a museum want your inherited clutter?” by Elspeth Kursh on This article was suggested to me when I crowdsourced a classmate’s question about donating objects from one’s personal collection to a museum. Kursh, who works with collections at Sewall-Belmont House, writes, “we can’t allow things into our permanent collections without a great deal of thought, discussion, and careful measurement of how much storage space and resources we have.”

6. “What NOT to Do with Kids in a Museum” by Hrag Vartanian on Hyperallergic. This article was first emailed to me by a friend who knows about my previous jobs as a visitor services representative or museum attendant (see #1) as well as a preschool teacher who took three-year-olds on museum field trips three times a week and worked hard to teach them “museum manners.” One primary tenet of museum manners, no matter your age, is that you do not touch objects unless you are explicitly invited to do so! Interestingly, the person who snapped the photo of the parents allowing the child to lie down on a sculpture experienced the following exchange: “I told the woman the the kids were using a $10mm art work as a toy, she told me I knew nothing abt kids. Obv she doesn’t either.” So much is wrong here. Knowing about kids and knowing about art are not mutually exclusive. Museums can be welcoming places for families, and families can be respectful museum visitors, but adults need to actively teach children museum manners in order for this whole thing to work.

7. “Bao Bao is the big ticket, but what about the salamander next door?” asks Natalie Jacewicz in the Washington Post. The writer challenges zoos to “transition their emphasis from conservation for the sake of human enjoyment to preservation for the sake of a species community.” This direction is one in which zoos need to keep moving, but to be fair, zoos have already come a long way since the days of putting animals in individual cages and making them perform tricks to entertain people. What do you think the zoo of the future will look like?


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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