As a graduate student in the San Francisco Bay Area, revolution is familiar territory. Ideas of changing the world permeate the culture of the Bay. At the John F. Kennedy University’s Berkeley Campus, on Saturday April 10, 2010, the Department of Museum Studies hosted a colloquium: Museums in a Troubled World.
Dr. Robert R. Janes discussed his recent book Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? Janes presented a need for revolution in the museum field. Oddly, I found myself taking a step back.
I am not a revolutionary. Perhaps years of being a politically active anarchist made me nervous about revolution. Revolutions tend to be unstable, and can swing back the other direction with a vengeance. As a result, I became an evolutionary. Gradual change through education and intentionally setting a direction will stabilize an organization and allow for more complete organizational acceptance of the new ideas.
I think these aspects are critical to holistic change. However, Janes’s talk and the following discussions framed the need for change in the museum field due to the irrelevance of museums as social institutions. Janes described how museums tend to ignore major concerns--including a broader commitment to the world, a growing adherence to marketplace demands, and unlimited collections growth and limited resources for care of objects.
He suggested mission statements that only address ‘what’ museums engage in and not the ‘why’ do not go far enough. Specifically, Janes thinks museums need to strengthen their commitment to making a difference, confront “sacred cows” in the museum field, and reevaluate the real work museums should be doing.
As most things do these days, the discussion made me think of the thesis that I am currently writing. In part, my thesis addresses a recent overhaul to the Tax Form 990, the annual financial reporting document for non-profits.With the changes to form, the IRS defines a new direction for non-profit management structures. The ideas themselves aren’t new, but the IRS making them guidelines for non-profits is quite new.
So, I started to wonder: Has the IRS begun to revolutionize the non-profit sector in America, and therefore museums? I think the structural changes to policies and procedures needed to complete the Form 990 approaches the definition of a revolution.
If museums are in the midst of a revolution, then why not strive to re-imagine the place of museums in society? Why not create new organizational structures based on collaboration? Why not look to effective models outside the field? Why not make museums about the ‘why’? Upon reflection, perhaps I am a revolutionary. I certainly believe the museum field needs to adapt to survive. Why not adapt to thrive? Maybe surviving verses thriving is the difference between evolution and revolution. Man, one little ‘r’ can make a big difference.
Jason B. Jones is learning to better manage his time. His primary method for improving this skill is by concurrently completing an MA and a MBA in Museum Administration at John F. Kennedy University. He can be found on twitter.