Serious Thoughts For a New Year

Lest we museum professionals begin the new year with old thinking…

Not long ago we met with a veteran museum professional who has spent a decades-long career as an interpreter. He was described as having a deep love of history, which is why we were meeting. We had content questions and we were told he could answer some of them.

Our excitment at meeting him, however, quickly turned to regret. The last thing he wanted to talk about was history. Instead he lamented that his museum’s management did not value history, which was to say he felt they didn’t value him or his interests. He was angry and his anger warmed his soliloquies and fired his eagerness for his approaching retirement. It was a long, loud day.

Now we could easily turn this experience into a comical essay, having a little fun at the expense of both the management and the interpeter. This could include a vignette about the interpreter, who we observed in action doing his level best not to excite visitors about his beloved history by being boring.

We could do all of that, but we won’t. Not because it wouldn’t be easy to (it would), but because anger and burnout are real and present dangers in the field. It is so easy to think your contributions go unheeded, especially for those of us in the interpretive and content side of museum work. If for no other reason, it happens because we tend to sound more like spenders than earners, which always endears us to management.

Listen to me.

To help our remaining colleagues navigate these dark and stormy waters, we at the Hysterical Society thought we would share a bit of wisdom from Alan Alda, himself a dedicated and thoughtful artist and whose movie Sweet Liberty was one of the insipirations for the Hysterical Society’s creation. Clearly we think he’s worth listening to. While on Inside the Actors Studio he said:

It’s very tough, you gotta know that, because the people you deal with are going to be in business for themselves. They’re not going to be in your business… you’re spending a lot of time here learning how to be artists. You’re going to go into a world where art is valued as something bought and sold. You can lend them your talent, don’t give them your soul. You can rent out your ability, but keep looking for ways to do what you started out wanting to do. It’s very hard to find those ways. Don’t stop.

We think there are some wonderful ideas in there to help prevent, or at least retard, burnout – that you should not let the business side overwhelm everything else, that you should only lend your abilities, and that you should vigilantly pursue what you love.

So please start 2015 out right, heed Mr. Alda and stop wasting your colleagues’ time with your bitching.

Happy New Year!

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About T.H. Gray

T.H. Gray is the self-appointed court jester and Dr. Demento for the history museum field. A lifelong museum professional and reenactor, he is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program. Until 2011, when the AHS hired him away, he was on staff at the Benjamin Dover Memorial Museum & Swimming Pool ("Our History is All Wet!"). He remembers when museums were still about history, science, and art. BTW, all of these posts say they are by T.H. Gray because he can't turn off the byline. Credit, when due, is given. View all posts by T.H. Gray

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