Letter: Museum should remain "window to the world"
I've followed the coverage of Berkshire Museum's long-term strategic plan online and have some thoughts.
I attended 1Berkshire's Creative Resources Conference in January. One of the panels discussed ways to grow visitation in "today's world." The Berkshire Museum was represented on that panel. Their representative discussed the development of new programming and other ideas to stay relevant — no different a challenge than any smart organization goes through. They have been at this for some time now.
As I've digested the opinions expressed by the Berkshire creative community (which I appreciate and respect), I decided to poke around a bit. My search took me to the Berkshire Museum listing on Wikipedia (of course). There I read that Zenas Crane founded and created the museum for his community as a "window to the world." That, it seems to me, is the core mission of the museum. The "window to the world" can now be opened by any number of media and experiences that have emerged since 1903 and have become increasingly accessible to an increasingly large proportion of the population. Think about those changes — print, broadcast, film, school programming, travel, Internet, etc. What once created awe and amazement for Berkshire-ites will no longer satisfy, nor keep up with the curiosity of most.
What does this mean to the mission of this museum, located in a community that is very different than it was in 1903? Perhaps it is to create a new, dynamic, hands-on "window to a future world" that is possible through innovation and creativity ("STEAM"). Could that mission be fulfilled by creating a community experience that can compete with current media and lifestyles?
Regarding money: If every woman, man and child in the 'shire donated $100, the museum would net $13.5 million — just a third of what is hoped for. In my experience, despite efforts from leadership past and present, the museum has not evolved into a reliable tourist destination with the financial benefits that come along with that. The leadership at the museum must have thought hard and long to come up with this plan to reverse the trends of shrinking attendance, population and local wealth and remain relevant — and solvent.
From my seat, the decision reached by the board is the way to go. The Berkshire Museum is a community museum (and treasure) and the mission should reflect that. In this case, #imwithvan.
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