Thursday, May 14, 2009

Live Long and Prosper: Audiences, Star Trek and History Museums

Well, yes, I went to see the new Star Trek movie the other night. As we left the theater, Drew said, "On your blog, how would you connect Star Trek to museums?" So here goes--how could history museums be more like Star Trek?
  • Tell real compelling stories about people. The audience was dying to know all about Kirk and Spock's early years. Of course, these are fictional creations, but in each of our communities there are everyday people with compelling lives--those are the stories we should be sharing.
  • Figure out how to start with what people know. In a movie like this, it's all about the pop-culture references and the references to earlier versions. It gives the viewer (or museum-goer) somewhere to start, but doesn't exclude the first-time viewer.
  • Have cool objects. Okay, most local history museums don't have phaser guns (or whatever they're called), but they do have cool objects--if we take the time to put them into context. In the goofiest of ways, every community museum has an object that transforms a raw material into a usable item, or creates heat and warmth, or transports us from one place to another. I don't think local history museums should be all about process, but understanding how things work is intriguing to many.
  • Be a place where people can gather together. Isn't affinity group just another name for Fan Club? Become a place where like-minded people can gather (for fun, without admission, organized by themselves) to explore topics that interest them.
But, one cautionary note: if we, as museums, become too immersed in the occasionally arcane knowledge of our subject, we run the risk of only talking to people like us, interested in the same thing--in the same way, I suspect, that might happen at Star Trek fan conventions. So, rather than just sticking with the same old thing, consider going boldly forward to those new worlds.

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