Local history museums like us are always up against demographics. I often say you don’t appreciate local history until you’re old enough to remember some of it. As a result it’s sometimes hard to engage the younger generation and involve them in our mission. This in part led us to our first foray into the “pop-up museum” phenomenon a few weeks back.
We called it the “You-Seum--a one-night exhibition designed by you!” We shaped it around the theme “Great-Grandma could have never imagined…” and invited the public to bring in an item to illustrate that theme. We set few ground rules, allowing the participants to drive the discussion in their own way. The turn-out, while smaller than we would have liked (there were several other events in town that lovely April night) but enthusiastic. The ages ranged from 6 to over 90. The six-year-old came to show off her Disney Princess collection.
The entries were insightful and thought-provoking. One of our members brought his tablet and e-reader; technology obviously outside of Great-Grandma’s imagination. Another brought a photo of herself having coffee with an African American friend--an encounter her great grandmother probably would have never sanctioned. The assistant director opined about the frenetic pace of modern life, which would have baffled our more relaxed ancestors. She illustrated it with a dvd showing of the Andy Griffith episode “Man in a Hurry.” One of our older members brought a slightly risqué sculpture--her great-grandmother could have never imagined such a thing in a respectable museum.
One participant grew up on a small Chesapeake Bay island, which was fundamentally transformed a generation ago when a bridge was built to the mainland. She brought in a nostalgic display of hometown items showing what was gained--and what was lost-- when the modern world intruded onto her island.
My own great-grandparents’ farm is now the site of a strip mall, mostly vacant, where the most popular shop is Dunkin’ Doughnuts. So I brought a dozen assorted pastries--Great-Grandma Long probably never tasted one, much less could foresee them sold from her cornfield. For the first time in my career I put out the sign “Please eat the exhibit.” Around the room, conversations mulled the changes we’ve all seen in such a short period of time. One of our goals was to get people thinking, and we did it.
On the whole, it was a most enjoyable evening and we plan to offer it again with a different theme. Along the way, if we can achieve a reputation as a museum that has more than static exhibitions to observe passively from behind velvet ropes; as an innovative facility where visitors can learn from enjoyable, engaging programs, then we’ll have crossed the bridge from yesterday’s museum to a brighter tomorrow.