Museum folks don’t spend a lot of time discussing politics while at work. We want our museums to be neutral ground, welcome to all walks of life and political persuasions. Although internally we’re hazily aware that politically the museum staff is generally center/left, while board members tend to be center/right. While we don’t want to be viewed as taking a political side, now, thanks to some collateral fallout from the government shutdown, perhaps it’s time we took a stand.
By collateral fallout we mean, for example, this:
“The worst thing that happens is some museums close and someone can’t go to the Statue of Liberty.” Jonah Goldberg
According to Goldberg, the shutdown doesn’t really matter because it only means some people aren’t able to visit museums. Which, by extension, also means that museums don’t matter because they aren’t essential.
Also there’s this:
Government-sponsored museum closures are merely an “inconvenience.” Tactful though they’re trying to be, it stills feels as though even the Smithsonian is saying, “hey, we’re not essential.”
And, of course, there is this very strange exchange between conservative Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) and a park ranger, where Neugebauer tries to shame the ranger for preventing veterans access to the WWII monument, because all of a sudden NPS sites are essential?
These are troubling, troubling developments, revealing how far museums are from being considered essential components of American life (beyond being used as political footballs and jokes, that is).
At times of crisis, such as this, you would think the American Alliance of Museums would step in and guide us through it, arguing to lawmakers that we are essential. Unfortunately for museums, the AAM is simply a lobbying organization who hopes to appear non-partisan. However, if the the AAM were to do something useful to help secure the political future of museums, we think the first order of business should be to figure out which political party is best for museums.
By “best” we mean which party will always fund the Institute of Museum & Library Services, the NEA, and the NEH (all of which support museums), keep all Federally-sponsored museums and historic sites open, and stop using them all as political cannon fodder.
Once the AAM determines the winner, then we, as a field, should throw aside our long-held neutrality and follow our for-profit colleagues by pushing as much financial support to that party as we can. Maybe then politicians will take museums seriously. Because the truth is, we’re only going to be seen as essential if we make money (and can pay the right people off).