Trends Museums USA

Museums: the cure for a crowded house?

At annual conference, professionals discuss how museums could become an escape from cramped urban living and the power of technology

The urban crunch: Andreas Gursky, Paris, Montparnasse
, 1993. Photo: courtesy White Cube

Will the shrinking size of US apartments drive more people to visit museums? “If you aren’t hanging out with friends at home, you need somewhere else to go,” said Elizabeth Merritt, the founding director of the Centre for the Future of Museums, at a presentation during the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) annual meeting this week (19-22 May).

Increased urban density, a growing online audience for museums and shrinking government funding for the arts were among the subjects discussed at the 107th annual event, which drew more than 5,000 museum professionals to Baltimore, Maryland. According to Merritt, by 2050, 75% of the earth’s population will live in cities, a trend that is leading local governments to experiment with zoning regulations and minimum apartment sizes. “Museums have the opportunity to become a ‘third space’” for a public looking to socialise, she said.

Though the theme of this year’s conference was “The Power of Story”, the power of technology was equally evident in dozens of presentations. The proliferation and widespread acceptance of online education means that museum educators can now offer students formal credentials that will be recognised by potential employers. Conservators are also developing digital sensors that can alert them when materials, like leather, begin to rot.

Meanwhile, museum administrators are using the internet to increase transparency in acquisitions, said Kimerly Rorschach, the director of the Seattle Art Museum. A new website for the American Association of Museum Directors (AAMD), set to go live at the end of the month and previewed at the conference, offers a detailed object registry of works of art in institutional collections without iron-clad provenance before 1970.

A full report on the AAM conference will appear in our July/August issue.

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