Stop! Collaborate and Listen!

23a5caa9049e246dfb94377eacbce31bCollaboration is the key to survival in today’s economic environment. It’s no longer enough to do what you’ve always done, no matter how well you do it. The competitive models of the past – pitting museum against museum for dollars and visitors – are failing. The museum business model MUST change if museums are to stay relevant and vital in this ever-changing world.

One way we can change the museum business model is to start working, supporting and succeeding together. The process may be fraught with pitfalls and false starts, but it’s necessary if museums are to remain cherished and trusted institutions.

Here’s an example. The Arizona Museum of Natural History (AZMNH) changed its mission years ago, moving away from history to focus on archaeology, geology, and paleontology. They offered a large collection – 75 years of prescription files from a local pharmacy – to the Mesa Historical Museum (MHM), the nearby local history museum. A medical archivist saw no medical value in this collection, but the prescription files did have names and addresses of patients and doctors, along with dates showing who was where and when. 

MHM was not able to accept the offer, but my institution, the Chandler Museum located in a neighboring city, could; we saw this collection as a genealogist’s dream. (Don’t worry, we’re not violating anyone’s privacy; we’re only building a database of names, addresses, and dates.)

While we’ve only just begun this huge project, we nonetheless feel that this is a positive example of museums working to accomplish what’s best for one another, for this large and valuable collection, and for our neighboring communities here in the East Valley.

So, what collaborations have you undertaken? What positive experiences have you had?

One Response to “Stop! Collaborate and Listen!”

  1. June 21, 2013 at 10:14 am, Richard Gibson said:

    The Mai Wah Chinese museum in Butte, MT, worked with the Montana Heritage Commission, a state agency that owned more than 2,500 artifacts that were originally in the buildings that house the Mai Wah Museum. The artifacts had gone away about 65 years ago, but now thanks to the collaboration they are back from Nevada City MT to the location where they comprised the wares for sale in a large urban Chinese mercantile (shark fins for shark fin soup, banana leaves for wrapping parcels, and much more).

    Now, the Mai Wah is collaborating with Butte’s World Museum of Mining on cross-pollinating our two collections, by way of interpretations by a Chinese student at Butte High School who is translating Chinese labels on objects at both museums. And the Mai Wah and the World Museum of Mining will also be working together to help the Montana Heritage Commission to create an exhibit in Nevada City that is appropriate to the small Chinese community that was there, in its early mining days.


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