Museums as Places of Becoming

Renegade Tours

Can a museum reveal the infinite?  Can it acknowledge our constantly changing existence, while still providing authenticity, community, and meaning?

David Carr thinks a museum can do so.  Carr is an advocate for cultural institutions as instruments of experience in the lives of adults.  His work strives to motivate respect for people by libraries and museums.

In “An Aspect of the Infinite: New Zealand Talks,” Carr reflects on the concentrated power of objects and museums.  Drawing on over 30 years of experience, he re-imagines museums as contributors to vital democratic processes that unlock our human potential.  His observations showcase the power of museums as pathways to locate ourselves and each other, and our shared horizons. 

We’ve summarized his ideas for the future of museums in the slides below.  Read on to discover how your museum can be a gateway to the infinite.

Museums as Places of Becoming title slide

What if we were to understand the museum as a powerful instrument for coming fully into our own lives?

Where we are reminded that though we are small, we are not meaningless?

Museums are the only secular institutions in our culture capable of continuously opening the closed doors of memory and indifference.

What museums give their visitors must resonate within the visitor or else it has no value.

We need to help them feel...the courage of discovery...the impulse of faith...the boldness of genius...the horrors of human losses...or the confirmation of order to craft their own truths.

We must treat people not as visitors but as users, humans who grow through their experiences at museums.

Museum users embrace objects only when they realize that objects have a power that is inherently human and that power resides in themselves.

A power that reminds us... "We are not finished."

The museum of the future will embrace this vision and progressive spirit.

It will grasp our unfinished presence...

Recognize that it takes more than space and artifacts to change lives...

Embrace what is invisible...

And recognize that "every life is a private life, a civic life, an economic life. It's a life in a community, a life in a family."

So how do you become a progressive museum?

Aim for quality of experience over quantity of objects.

Ask the questions that are rarely heard: How do we know? What do we think? What is the difference it makes?

Tell the journeys of objects and the sources of knowledge in our collections.

Invite users to be activists in their own learning: to make choices, take their time, and think again.

Become an advocate for the museum experience.

Make the experience like a conversation: unthreatening, personal, enlightening, and sometimes gently challenging.

Invite users to ask, "What is happening to me here?"

Most of all, trust your users.

Trust that people thirst for parts of their world that they have not yet seen, will value new information, and are learners and questioners.

"Only an open, unfinished conversation will fulfill the museum's promise and help us to become closer to the lives we have dreamed to live."Places of Becoming credits

Download the PDF version of this summary here.

An Aspect of the Infinite: New Zealand Talks” by David Carr was originally published in Curator in January of 2010.

Find out about our consulting work with museums, or send us an email to find out more about how we can help your institution with audience development.

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