More to museums: Museum directors, curator say museums offer community meaningful opportunities

  • 2016-04-13
  • Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Museums are where “the things you’ve either learned about or read about or dreamt about become tangible and possible,” said Kristian Anderson, executive director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

Museums belong to everyone, said Annie Burbidge Ream, assistant curator of education for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. She said a museum shouldn’t be identified merely as a collection of objects but instead as “a vehicle for social justice and change.”

But museums are also evolving, said Sarah George, executive director of the Natural History Museum of Utah, and leaving behind the “textbook-on-the-wall, we’re-going-to-lecture-you” approach.

George said museum directors and scientists of the past were under a “naive assumption … that people were going to walk out with their brains just bulging with knowledge.”

She said people want to have fun while they learn, and that NHMU strategically places a variety of activities throughout the museum so all generations and learning types can be served harmoniously.

“The experience has changed,” she said. “It’s much more interactive. We look for ways for you to connect yourself and your own interests to what you’re learning about, and (we) want you to walk away inspired.”

Transforming perspectives

Burbidge Ream, George and Anderson all work with a goal to enlighten and embolden the community.

The aim of NHMU is to encourage others to contemplate how they can improve the world around them day by day, George said.

She said she feels successful when museums attendees show a desire to act on the knowledge they gained at the museum.

One of her favorite experiences stems from the “Utah Futures” exhibit currently on display. George said the exhibit features a video game where up to five people can make environmental decisions and see a simulation of the projected effects up to 100 years in the future. Players can negotiate and discuss decisions about economic growth, energy use, pollution and more, she said.

George said that when two families with youths come in, they make a beeline for the game.

“(In) one of the families, the kids are building a game at home that mimics that game,” George said. “To hear directly from these families that it is making a difference is great.”