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News & Press: President's Message

Elvis Slept Here . . . Well Sort Of

Saturday, December 17, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ryan Paul
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Elvis slept here . . . well sort of. O.K. not actually, but he did fly over the city once. As a museum curator and historian, I am constantly bombarded with statements such as these. Museum exhibits and history texts often exaggerate the importance of their collection or site. Museums serve the public by being centers of connection. We do a disservice to our patrons if we provide interpretive text and labels that represent our way of thinking. Our responsibility should be to present the information in such a way that the viewer is led to make an educated but most importantly, a personal connection and conclusion. 

Learning is often a challenging and frequently uncomfortable process. I assert that all education, in the classroom, museum, or life is fundamentally self-education, and those of us who implement and design exhibits should serve as facilitators in what is primarily a quest by each individual to acquire knowledge and insight.  By straying from controversial topics or ideas we fail to fulfill our mandate to provide a complete picture. As museum professionals, we should be able to trust our audience to process differing views. This is not always easy, however, as we all know, our jobs rarely are. The noted historian Paul Gagnon stated: “We do not need a bodyguard of lies. We can afford to present ourselves in the totality of our acts.” Of course, Gagnon never had to deal with such topics as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Japanese Internment, or the treatment of Native Americans. However, that does not absolve us from tackling these difficult but necessary to understand issues. Controversy, exhibited properly prompts dialogue and that hopefully brings understanding. 

Now, if you failed to attend the 2011 Conference, I hope you will commit yourself to attending next year. The UMA Conference not only provides an opportunity for our profession to connect, network, and of course to have some fun, but also to learn from each other and understand the various challenges we all face. Hopefully, you received some answers to your questions and found new programs and ideas that will increase your visitation, revenue, and job satisfaction.

That being said, like a department store playing Christmas music before Halloween, the UMA board is actively planning the 2012 conference. Our meeting will be held in Salt Lake City and we already have some new and inspiring plans. However, you should remember that there are no bad ideas in the brainstorming phase. If you are interested in participating in planning for next year’s conference please contact a member of the UMA board. I hope you will bring your staff and participate in your Utah Museums Association. Who knows, Elvis may even show up, just don’t ask him to spend the night.   

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