Monday, April 7, 2008

Old Innovation

Great article in the Times this week about a museum in the Berkshires: Attic-Like Museum’s New Annex of Ideas. The Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, a 3,000-square-foot exhibition space focusing on local innovators, opened last weekend at the Berkshire Museum. It sounds like a compelling exhibit, showcasing everyone from Herman Melville, who wrote much of "Moby Dick" right in Pittsfield, to Clarence J. Bousquet, the area businessman who invented night skiing in the 1930's.

The author points out one innovator who is not included - Zenas Crane Jr., the man who helped found and finance what is now the Berkshire Museum. In the author's view, part of the appeal of the old pre-renovation museum, was its "curiosity cabinet" feel. He says he often "felt as if [he] were venturing into an enormous attic in which a wealthy collector was showing off his treasures." It's clear that he appreciated the sense of discovery and wonder that this old-fashioned type of exhibition could inspire.

It's something to consider. As the museum field becomes more and more professional, the old methods of exhibition tend to be looked upon as relics of another time. While I agree that there are many new and exciting ways to display objects and engage visitors, maybe we need to keep the old ways in mind, or at least in the backs of our minds.

In no way am I advocating a return to the bad old days of rows upon rows of glass cases filled to distraction with a jumble of objects. However, we need to remember the wonder and awe that the objects themselves have the power to inspire.
Interactive and multimedia exhibits are great for holding the attention of children, but then again, so is a "old-fashioned" dinosaur skeleton.