You might think, after spending forty hours a week at a museum, that I might be sick of them. However, I have the good fortune to work in an environment that I love. Therefore, when Natasha invited me to go to the Field Museum this weekend with her and her family, I was game, even though there weren't any special exhibits that caught my fancy. Natasha and her family were hoping to catch the Pirates exhibit, but it was already sold out by the time we got to the museum.
I must say though, there is something about the Pirates exhibit that really bothers me. Sure, it has been a powerhouse for the Field, regularly selling out within the first few hours that the museum is open. I don't begrudge them the source of income, especially in this economy, but I can't help but feel that they have "sold out" by taking on this exhibit. It is, after all, the Field Museum of Natural History, not the Field Museum of Internet Memes. To me, it seems like the museum is capitalizing on the recent popularity of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and ongoing Internet-based pirate fandom, instead of advancing the museum's mission.
The dummy pirates rappelling from the ceiling add to the kitschy atmosphere.
The Field Museum was founded for the "accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, and the preservation and exhibition of objects illustrating art, archaeology, science, and history." Somehow, I don't think pirates quite fit into the theme. In order to draw visitors, museums often find themselves in the business of peddling "edutainment," but the fiberglass pirates decorating the inside of the Field, and strewn across the city of Chicago as viral advertisements for the exhibition seem to cross the line into more entertainment and less education. Call me an idealist, but museums are meant to serve the public interest.
The museum provides plenty of photo-ops with the faux pirates.
The Field Museum's other temporary exhibit, which we did take in while we were there, was a much more appropriate selection -- Road To Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement. Although the exhibit seemed more appropriate for perhaps a photography museum, or even a historical society, I still felt that it was more in line with the museum's stated objectives. I know it could be argued that the museum needs exhibits like Pirates to make exhibits like Road to Freedom possible, but I just can't shake my conviction that the Field is sacrificing their integrity to make more money.
It is possible to bring in blockbuster exhibits that have greater relevance to the museum's mission. The Field's Cleopatra exhibition of several years ago is a perfect example. Next month, the Field is going to host a large exhibit on diamonds, for which I am very excited. Diamonds are, after all, my birthstone. I could be biased, but I feel like a geological, socio-political, economic, and artistic exploration of diamonds fits in with the Field's mission statement, while still capturing public imagination. Whether the exhibit will prove a success remains to be seen, but if it does, I think it will demonstrate that museums can strike a better balance in their pursuit of edutainment, without sacrificing their credibility.