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Crowdsourcing the Conference: What questions do you have about permanent exhibitions?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016   (0 Comments)
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Crowdsourcing the Conference:

What questions do you have about permanent exhibitions?

By Tim Glenn, Executive Director, John Wesley Powell River History Museum


Maybe you’ve been here. Your permanent exhibitions are older than the leaning tower of Pisa. You lay awake at night with envy in your heart towards the newer, wealthier museums around the West. They don’t know your struggle. They don’t know the restless nights and bloodshot eyes that come from the stress of aging and immovable exhibitions. Oh, to be wealthy in both funding and design!


OK, OK, turn the drama knob back by five.


But let’s be honest. For small, medium, and even many large museums, permanent exhibitions are the five hundred pound gorilla in the room. They’re usually the face of our organizations. They’re the things in our museums that visitors interact with the most. They often bare the brunt of our interpretative efforts, and they’re quickly becoming obsolete. Simply put, they’re a bit of a problem.


In recent years I have heard museums leaders in various forums argue that our perspective on permanent exhibitions needs to change. Some have argued that we should no longer view any section of our museums as permanent. Rather, all of our displays should be viewed as temporary with varying timestamps and dates for removal. This is a brilliant reinterpretation of museums and exhibitions, but it isn’t all that practical (yet) for the majority of small and medium sized organizations across the West.

So when you have a very small staff, and you don’t have access to in-house exhibit designers, what can you do to keep your permanent exhibitions relevant? If you’re dealing with a space that cannot be changed, or you don’t have the finances to upgrade that space, what type of things can you do to offer a beneficial experience to your visitors? What are other museums doing around Utah to try and solve these problems, and what would those museums with more abundant resources suggest to help improve permanent exhibitions in smaller organizations?


These are some of the questions we plan to ask at the UMA conference, but we’d love to hear your input too. What questions do you have for permanent exhibitions in your museums? What solutions have you found, or heard from other people? How do you keep your permanent exhibitions fresh in the face of limited budgets and a changing visitor landscape? Please, tell us!


Tim Glenn would love to hear your questions, and your solutions as he gathers information for a session on permanent exhibitions at the conference this fall. If you have any thoughts, or ideas, please contact him at You too can help someone rest easy knowing that they can still squeeze some creative juice out of those old and dusty permanent displays.


Tim Glenn is the Executive Director of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, UT. A public historian at heart (and training), he has worked to improve community connections and collaborative programming at the museum since 2014. He enjoys long walks on Swasey's Beach, and can be accused of being too silly when he should be professional. 



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