By Franklin Vagnone, Museum Maverick for the Long Island Session
This experience perfectly symbolized why these “Creativity Incubators” are so needed and successful. We are all given the chance to find, see, and use collections items in new and compelling ways. Things that have been hidden behind a screen of professional stewardship, or relegated to a stage set within a period room, can now be pulled aside and made more substantive by collaborative context with other items. This is the stuff that curators are made of, and often find it hard to do; that is to use their incredible knowledge base to expand a narrative and tell more powerful stories.
The conversations naturally coalesced into questions as to why an object was placed in the order it was. Also, questions regarding the personal importance of an object started us down the path of meaning, and whether meaning can be universal – or stay with the individual? And in this conversation, we found the core of our purpose: Can we as museum professionals curate narratives that are universal while at the same time use objects of individual significance?
We took this conversation a bit more “black & white” by experiencing the newspaper stories of the day. I asked everyone to find a story and relate it back directly to their own site. I wanted us to discuss the possibility of using current affairs as the basis for new narrative context at our heritage sites. Whenever I facilitate this exercise, I simply smile as I see how effortlessly it seems that people can make the jump between history and today. Our conversations continued through lunch and then we set out into the house museum to begin our afternoon of incubating new contextual ideas by utilizing existing objects found within the collections. At the end of the day the house museum proved to be a perfect backdrop for this experimental gathering. The staff was welcoming, the narratives were capable of expansive re-thinking, and the group of participants willingly engaged in non-standard thinking processes.
Once again I left the event feeling proud of the creativity of us museum people and how possible it is, even within a standard stewardship model of a heritage site, to re-think all that we know and jump off the cliff to stories yet un-told.