A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happens in museums. I don’t mean what happens to the artifacts. I mean, what happens to the museum-goer. Why do people come and why do they come back?
I used to think that history museums connect people to history (and art museums connect people to art, etc.). I’m starting to realize that history museums—at least when they are the most successful—connect people to people (and art museums do, too).
Surprisingly enough, I came to this realization thinking about theater (and with a little help from a wise museum professional). I’ve always enjoyed live theater, and, sort of like museums, the more theater you see, the more you want to see. This season, I’ve made a point of seeing shows here in Baltimore at both Everyman Theatre and at Baltimore Center Stage.
The plays with which I connect the most deeply, the ones that give me goosebumps and make me cry, are the ones that teach me something about the world or myself (or both). They do that by connecting me on a deep level with a character or characters.
I don’t mean to say that I see versions of myself on stage and am moved. In fact, the specifics of the characters who move me are often wildly different than my own particularities.
Some examples from the most recent season include:
This is the power of good theater. It is the power of good storytelling.
When theater or art or history evokes empathy in us, we learn about the world and ourselves. In museums the mechanism is different, but the aim is the same. Both plays and museum exhibits attempt to connect their viewers with the authentic human experiences of others.
With every day that I am privileged to work in this field, I become more convinced that museums are magic. Through observing authentic artifacts—the belongings of others—we can connect with the people who owned them, who loved them, who saved them. Museums allow us all to be time travelers. Even better than that, as we travel through time and connect with people divorced from our specific time and place, we are offered the opportunity to learn more about the world and ourselves.