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We have ventured to repeat ourselves more than once in preparing this outline of hints on museum beginnings. Our own experience has led us to do this. We needed to be told; but we had to learn by experience. Because we had to go through that experience once, we hope it may help others to escape a like experience if we indulge somewhat in repetition.
ADVICE THAT WOULD HAVE HELPED US It is better to spend money in making good use of one thing than in acquiring another thing. The worth of a museum object is in its use. One common insect, for example, properly displayed, with appropriate accompaniments showing its growth, its habits, its harmfulness or helpfulness, with readable and easily understood labels, is far more attractive and useful than is a case of forty insects, each scientifically named only and set in wearisome rows. One good painting, well lighted, with seats convenient for those who wish to inspect it with an accompanying pamphlet of simple, straightforward description and comment, can do more for education in the understanding and appreciation of the method and purpose of the world's great painters, than is done, save for a very few students, by rows of paintings in huge galleries.
A scrap of printed cotton, accompanied by proper text, pictures, charts and suitably related objects, can throw more light, on the subject of textiles, for ninety-nine out of one hundred visitors, than can long rows of examples of the finest "museum specimens" of old and rare fabrics.
Properly to display an object, so to present it, that is, as to make it tell an interesting and instructive story, calls for the use of time and brains. You can, therefore, well be sparing in the use of money for purchasing objects; whereas, if you do not spend money freely in the purchase of museum brains you can make no progress toward the construction of a new museum.
The elements of the arts of listing, classifying, storing, displaying and labeling objects in museums will be set forth in
future pamphlets in this series, as clearly and definitely as our study, our experience and our powers of observation, invention, and statement permit. We venture to add here a few suggestions that seem to us fundamental and that may be found helpful even in the early days of the most modest institution.
A FEW FUNDAMENTAL NOTES 1 Centralize authority. A museum cannot be well managed by a board of directors. No business can.
2 Museum purposes and methods change daily, as do all other community enterprises in these days. Therefore, do not try to develop a museum after a plan. Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.
3 The museum idea is daily modified. The building which best fits the museum idea of today will surely not fit it tomorrow. Construct no museum building after present museum ideas. Build for space, flexibility and adaptation to new needs.
4. Beware of "experts” in the museum field.
5 The present dominance of oil paintings in the museum world is responsible for much of the present day inutility of museums. Sacrifice little of the museum's means, or exhibit space, to paintings.
6 Accept with thanks everything offered without conditions ; accept nothing with conditions.
7 The community maintains schools for education. Attach the museum to the schools; do not let it try to compete with the schools.
8 Welcome enthusiastic collectors as collaborators in the museum. They gather and store, and are laughed at for their pains, - and are not disturbed thereby. Time will almost always prove them benefactors.
9 The worth of a museum is in its use. 10 To do something with loving care is better for a man, and far better for a child, than to gaze in wonder at what another has done.
11 Encourage the young to help make their museum. 12 Art is a result, not a cause.
13 Art has no laws; the works of art we most admire are unique and beyond all laws.
14 If there were laws of art production and if we discovered and followed them, we would build art-producing mechanisms. We cannot.
15 The schools have definite aims and pursue them, and all the people in their youth are compelled to feel their influence. The museum can reach only those whom it can attract. This fact alone is enough to compel it to be convenient to all, wide in its scope, varied in its activities, hospitable in its manner and eager to follow any lead the humblest inquirer may give.
16. Get good museum workers; let one of them at least be experienced in teaching; find a space for display; get an insect, a bird, an animal, a plant, a lithograph, a plaster cast, a spinning wheel, a tea cup, a bit of rock, a mineral, a dozen of the things made commercially in your community, a typewriter, an appropriation for printing, a friend in the local newspaper, set your museum brains at work upon these objects, and, in a few weeks you can open a museum which every intelligent person will rejoice to see.
17 Remember, always, that the very essence of the public service of a public institution is the public's knowledge of the service that institution can give; therefore advertise, advertise, and then advertise again. Advertising is the very life-blood of all the education a museum can give.
PART III MUSEUMS THAT CAN HELP YOU In compiling this list, notes of inquiry, copy given below, were sent to a large number of museums throughout the United States. Answers were received from most of those to which inquiries were sent. Those that did not answer are starred. It is possible that we did not reach some that would be glad to appear in the list. For our own files and for possible republication we would be glad to receive additions and corrections. The letter was as follows: .
THE NEWARK MUSEUM ASSOCIATION
November 16 1916
We are preparing here a brief pamphlet "On Beginning a Museum”, to be followed perhaps by others on the elements of Museum management. We plan to include in this pamphlet a list like enclosed, in the hope of making available to those interested the vast fund of special knowledge stored up in our older and more experienced museums.
Can you give us permission to include the name of your museum in this list, with the note appended thereto, and w.ll you kindly indicate any changes or additions which shouid be made in the note? Can you add the names of other museums which you think should be included in this list?
The list will be preceded by this note:
The museums in this list permit us to say that they are pleased to receive inquiries on any aspect of museum management and always answer them to the best of their ability. They also permit us to add to their names, in this list, certain notes which suggest topics on which they are particularly fitted by their experience to give information. An immediate answer will be appreciated.