This spring, I pursued and completed a certificate program in Museum Studies at the School of Professional Studies at Northwestern. I learned so much during the quarter and walked away with some wonderful resources and connections. What struck me the most in our discussions in class is this shift in museums as a whole - away from strictly serving the role of a repository and towards a space of facilitation and connection. Simply put, museums are trying to be less about stuff and more about people. Part of my interest in and motivation to work in cultural heritage institutions has been the stuff. I feel that there is so much we can learn from unique objects and materials. That being said, I understand and agree with the movement to make these institutions less static, more welcoming, and more relevant to the audiences they are supposed to serve. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the field, and I hope museums, libraries, archives, and galleries can adapt and embrace change.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the House of Terror in Budapest. This institution is dedicated to telling the story of Hungary under fascist and communist regimes in the 20th century. Wandering through the exhibition spaces, visitors are immersed in environments - not reproductions of historical spaces per se, but rather rooms meant to illicit emotion. There are objects and artifacts on display, but these are not the focus; interpretive text accompanying objects is minimal, instead there are paper handouts in nearly every room which provide background information to the topics covered. Multimedia elements, interviews and music in particular, are used frequently. The hardships faced under the regime were personalized by individual accounts, and it was clear that the intent with this was to generate a connection between history and visitors. While the subject of the museum may not be a welcoming one, the contemporary exhibition approach facilitates a relationship between those who lived under the regimes and those visiting the museum today. There are aspects to the exhibition I might approach differently, but I did find it to be an interesting example of this user-centered experience we discussed in our classes.