Museums See Themselves as More Than Collections; Being a Place for Community Conversations Fit Mission, Leaders Say

By Duvall, Tessa | The Florida Times Union, November 25, 2016 | Go to article overview

Museums See Themselves as More Than Collections; Being a Place for Community Conversations Fit Mission, Leaders Say


Duvall, Tessa, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Tessa Duvall

The dim, blue light of the dome overhead lit the planetarium at the Museum of Science and History one Wednesday night in October.

A program was about to begin, but not a lesson on the stars, moon and planets - it was a well-attended panel discussion on mental health and millennials.

Museums in Jacksonville have taken the perspective that they are more than curators of collections - they are venues for community conversations.

"Museums are really leveraging the space for public dialogue," said Maria Hane, executive director of the Museum of Science and History, or MOSH. "Museums and libraries are some of the last public domains, so it's very natural and a responsibility of ours to present topics in a place that isn't driven by politics or by a religion."

A quick glance at events hosted at venues such as MOSH, the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens shows events about women in leadership, the health of the St. Johns River, human rights, racial issues, voting and downtown revitalization. Though at first glance these events aren't directly related to the museums' core functions, their leaders say it is absolutely their roles to be a part of these community conversations.

Denise Reagan, director of communications at MOCA, said the contemporary art housed at the downtown museum reflects what is happening here and now. As such, many things falls in its wheelhouse, she said.

Last July, she said, an artist exhibited a painting of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's "Make American Great Again" red baseball cap.

"July last year that may have seemed amusing," she said, "but it seems more and more prescient and timely as time goes on. …

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