Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Big Idea, Election Style

I've been in lots of meetings lately where we talk about the Big Idea in exhibits--what's the big idea about innovation, about a particular community's history, about the story of vacations. It's the way in which all of us try to make sense of telling any complicated history in an exhibit format. So I was interested, last week, to hear a piece on NPR's All Things Considered on the big idea in this year's presidential campaign. As Robert Siegel said, sometimes candidates say only that "I'm better, stronger, older, younger or something...." than the other candidate. But sometimes candidates are about bigger ideas and political contributors EJ Dionne and David Brooks, using candidates own speeches, talked about who's got a big idea and who doesn't. John McCain was, they thought, a big idea guy stuck with a big idea called Iraq; Barack Obama's: building a better America; Hilary Clinton: sort of a version of it takes a village and John Edwards, a "factory floor populism."

What does that mean for exhibit goers and makers? Perhaps we too often fall prey to the same, "I'm better, stronger," syndrome in which we expect visitors, because we're the only museum in town, or because we're a famous big name museum--that the experience should be enough. Time will tell in electoral politics whether a big idea wins, but every day, our communities vote with their feet--and their contributions--about our big ideas.

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