I know I’ve used the book metaphor before but I think that it can be hard for museums, especially smaller museums, to find an identity and voice that’s neither encyclopaedia nor text book.
Encyclopaedic is hard to do if you’re not the British Museum. Without a certain amount of epic sweep behind you, you can’t really carry it off. Little child friendly museums can do text book beautifully. The Grant Museum is one of my favourite places and I’ve spent some very enjoyable hours there with nephews and nieces. But it’s a look that requires a few stuffed monkeys and exciting skeletons to work.
Anyway, grown ups don’t want text books and not all museums are for kids and families. So what else can a smaller museum aspire to?
I think a visit to a smaller museum should feel like picking up a good book; engaging, engrossing and hard to put down. Not all these books are fiction. How about creating a museum modeled on W G Sebald’s approach; weaving facts with stories and evidence to create something fascinating, poetic and memorable?