Bridging the History/Art Divide: The Multi-Disciplinary Museum of the Future

What do art works by Werner Heldt, White House footage of Reykjavik summit meetings, and an original draft of President Reagana��s a�?Tear Down This Walla�? speech have in common?

They were all tapped into as part of workshop on the Cold War that I was asked to give for Pitzer College and the San Bernadino School District, in conjunction with the “Art of Two Germanys: Cold War Cultures” exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

When I asked one of the history educators involved in the workshop what he expected to get out of the art exhibit, he said, “We’ll do anything we can to reach them [our students].”  And he was provided with a lot of opportunities.  Right now, all high school history teachers in California are required by the state to teach the Cold War, but are provided with very few, if any, materials. So, they turn to outside sources.

At the Reagan Library, I’ve developed a set of materials on President Reagan and the Cold War, utilizing everything we have to offer – footage, pictures, documents, ideas for use in the classroom. The materials provide an opportunity to explore the United States/Soviet relations from the perspective of the American executive branch during the 1980s. Pair this with an opportunity to absorb the stark, bleak, minimalist artistic work from East Germany and the soul-searching modernism of West Germany during the same time period, and the experience expands. Not only do you create an intellectual sensibility for the working of government, but you build a visceral experience as well. 

1980s punk rock underground films expressing adolescent anxiety provide a picture that words on paper can not describe.

High school history teachers have the job of immersing an ambivalent audience in study of times past and contemporary issues. Most importantly they must develop and share tools that students will use throughout their lives to examine, search and analyze. Sometimes the work is tedious, sometimes exhilarating, often frustrating. Good teachers will use any tools, information, products, projects they can to reach their students.

Is the museum audience that much different?  Studies show that most visitors attend museums as a tourist activity – a break from the daily routine – not necessarily because they are drawn to the museum collection. What would our museums look like if we approached our audience as teachers reach out to their students?

What if we used any tool in our collective kits to explore ideas, topics, and subjects?  What if we collaborated to create multi-disciplinary experiences to reach people on a series of levels? 

What would that museum look like?

See also:

Themed Design : Air Force One Discovery center Wins 15th Annual THEA Award

Museums: What do Kids Want?

Themed Attractions: Visitors are Immersed, Educated and Engaged at Air Force One Discovery Center