What are Museums For?

Jacqueline Francis, Guest Bully Pulpit Editor

Long before I met an art historian and long before I trained to become one, I knew that museums were sources and resources and that they were sites of social and cultural capital. I also did not expect museums to connect with me, and I did not care much if they did.

Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Curator, El Museo del Barrio, New York City

The front of the building that houses El Museo del Barrio features an artwork by the conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer that simply states: “A museum is a school: the artist learns to communicate, the public learns to make connections.”

Tuliza Fleming, Museum Curator, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution

Museums can be spaces where memories are created; where a wide range of identities and experiences can be explored and validated; where people can engage with new ideas and perspectives; where individuals can connect with their past, reflect upon their present, and imagine their future; and where people can interact with one another in a deeply profound or an enjoyably casual manner.

Jonathan Frederick Walz, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art, The Columbus Museum, Georgia

Because of the power inherent in images, collections of these formidable objects themselves accrete power. These display and storage spaces—whether actual or virtual—may quickly become politicized, as the museum staff and the local community wrestle with the symbolic nature of representations.

Neal Benezra, Director, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Can we imagine a future in which great works of art and a heightened public purpose are even more closely aligned than today? This is the opportunity that awaits.

Blake Shell, Executive Director, Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Portland, Oregon

While reflections on morality are certainly present in art, the nature of creativity is to allow for questioning and experimentation, unlike the tradition-based values of religion. By placing challenging thought and expression above all else, the museum is home to many varying and, at times, conflicting world views.