About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The November-December issue of Museum from American Association of Museums carries an interesting article about how some museums are moving from their roots to “greener pastures” of larger populations, better buildings, fresh start, etc. In August 2008 this blog community briefly looked putting ourselves where people are bound to be (see: Getting in the way). That’s still an important consideration, but actually moving a facility to another place takes the discussion to another level.

Although the article does not mention any museums in Minnesota that have moved, the article does talk about the Mount Horeb (WI) Mustard Museum moving to the wealthy Madison WI suburb of Middleton and renaming itself the “National Mustard Museum.” The museum is doing so to place its organization on better financial footing and provide more access to people. However, the author, Joelle Seligson, states that the “public love for museums is tied to their sameness, the sense that they will preserve and protect what they hold and remain in place for posterity.” The Mustard Museum will no longer be in the same place anymore.

In Minnesota there are examples of moves, too. For example Fort Belmont in Jackson was originally established in 1958 to take advantage of the traffic on US Route 71 south of town. When I-90 was built in 1974, much of the tourist traffic seemed to disappear. Fort Belmont completed a relocation to a site visible from I-90 a couple years ago. Neither the original attraction nor this one are on the actual site of the historic Fort Belmont. But, this is an example of an institution that is placing its facility where people are anyway.

Still, relocating an entire facility is a costly and extraordinary endeavor. In considering a move, how might an organization balance the “public love for museums … that they will … remain in place” with the public’s feet? If traffic has migrated from its historical location, must also the historical organization also migrate in order to be where people are? How should a historical organization balance financial considerations against mission which is so often tied to place? (History Where It Happened)

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4 Responses to Relocating Museums

  1. As an art museum with an historic connection to St. Paul and the region, an art museum now without a building or a home, the Minnesota Museum of American Art has been forced into exactly this predicament. Where do we relocate ourselves and our phenomenal collection to best serve the public? Should we stay in downtown St. Paul, consider a move to potentially burgeoning University Avenue, or move where expanding audiences and expanding funds are, someplace like the Twin Cities suburbs of Bloomington or Woodbury? How can we afford this?

    In my view, building partnerships and alliances is the way to go, combining our efforts so that many organizations can succeed where an individual institution may not. How can we work together to build coalitions for the betterment of all of us and the community as well? That’s a direction that I believe needs exploring in terms of moving to “new” and “better” pastures…

    Some of our supporters have even openly wondered whether a building is essential at all… Can a museum (art, history, science, or otherwise) exist without an actual physical place to call home? Can it exist simply by programming exhibitions, events, or activities in a variety of remote and brand-new locations, bringing its work, ideas, and exciting programs to new audiences? How about being a virtual museum? Can it exist if it throws its energies into harnessing the power of the web to promote its programs (in our case, art, artists, and education) in our state?

    I thought the article in Museum was provocative in opening these questions, questions that are at the top of our conversation list right now. Thanks for opening the dialogue on the Local History weblog.

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  2. We have had offers for other buildings in town, and we have always refused due to the fact we need to stay proximate to our other structure, which is a National Register Historic Site.

    Museums that are housed in historic buildings, register site or not, would have a more difficult time justifying a move, especially if there has been significant work done on that structure–since people would have donated $$ for those efforts and might not be pleased to see their work abandoned for a more “high-traffic” location.

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  3. George Slade says:

    As long as “museum” continues to imply “collections” there will be a need for some kind of physical space, to store and protect objects if nothing else. “Museum” also implies access, at least in my mind; MMAA’s goal has to be to provide real-time, 3-D, tactile (though “no touching, please”) access. There are, of course, lots of spaces in existence, and the museum could pursue a floating status, like Guys and Dolls’ “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.” Where’s the anchor, though; where’s the affective and real place you associate with the collection? Minnesota is too broad, and St. Paul perhaps too vague. We could say the museum’s home is in St. Paul, and tell everyone to stay tuned to where it pops up next. With the web, we could keep everyone who cares informed.

    But, the counterpoint is that this strategy may undermine whatever sense of solidity the museum wants to offer.

    Ultimately, the museum’s program must guide the discussion about its space needs.

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  4. Mary Warner says:

    Does “museum” have to imply physical collections? I’d argue that it doesn’t. There is the Internet Archive that does nothing but collect digital items.

    http://www.archive.org/index.php

    I’m going to assume there has to be a physical location somewhere for the Internet Archive, a place for its employees and a place to house its servers, but those aren’t where the users of the Internet Archive gather to peruse the collections.

    There is, however, a consistent element to the Internet Archive that is crucial for helping people to locate its collections. Ironically, it’s called the domain name. When a domain name changes, it takes a while for people to figure out the new “location” for a website, which means that relocating is actually an issue for digital archives, as well as for physical museums.

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