Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Museum Closing, Doors Opening

A few weeks ago now I heard about a museum closing its doors at the end of the year. Higgins Armory Museum is an incredibly unique institution, its founder collected medieval arms and armour, which he set up in a glass and steel structure on the top a hill in Worcester Massachusetts. When driving on the highway through Worcester you can see the helmet gargoyles on top of the grey building. I have friends who have worked there, studied there, even raised money for the institution. When I lived in Worcester I would go visit, and feel superior because I squired for a group of guys that fought in that stuff so I was familiar with the ways that all the suits of armor fit together. When I was putting together a kid's program on the middle ages I spent quite a bit of time (and money) in their gift shop, which contained all the latest in books for kids on the Middle Ages.

I will have to go visit a few more times before the end of the year and they close their doors, Anyone who wants to make a trip, drop me a line, I'll meet you there.

I am a bit surprised at this turn of events, though I have known for years that they were in financial hardship. They are not the only museum, my classes at Tufts in their Museum Studies Program inevitably bring up the sad state of museums at the moment. All non-profit institutions are feeling it, from education to healthcare. I am not too upset at the fate of Higgins though, because their collection is not being auctioned off, it is not being put into storage, it is going to be integrated into the Worcester Art Museum. So it will continue to be a unique part of Worcester, the quirky little city with the unpronounceable name. If the museum must close, and at this point I think more and more museums are going to face this sad reality, I am glad that Worcester Art is willing to take it on, and I hope they will be strengthened by the addition.

In my opinion, there are too many little museums out there. There are limited resources being put towards history, towards independent learning institutions, and those resources could be used more effectively if consolidated a bit. Maybe I've been brainwashed by corporate America. Maybe social media has dulled my senses, and the culture of suburbanization means I do not value my own community as much as I should, but the reality is that there are a ton of little historical societies and niche establishments out there that are on the brink of economic insolvency. Aren't we sometimes stronger as a team than as individuals?

I would love to see history be valued as a part of American Culture, and I'd love the history of everyday life, and ordinary people be just as well known as the history of wars and heroes. I think this could be a great opportunity for the Worcester Art Museum, I hope WAM and Worcester are able to take advantage of it.


  1. Consolidation can make lot of sense since it should mean a reduction in duplication of services (eg overhead and other operating costs).

    One concern with mergers/consolidations is when one institution side-lines the other. Although this is typically seen when larger institutions absorb smaller ones, a focus change can happen among equals as the internal administration changes and reorganizing. Once that happens it can be a slippery slope to extinction anyway.

    Another potential issue is compatible missions with regard to how the public views the institutions. While it's nice that WAM is helping out Higgins, how many people 2,3,5 or 10 years down the road will know that WAM has an armor exhibit? I know it never occurred to me to that the MET would have armor because of their (but maybe that's just me). And in fact their exhibit is based on armor AS art.

    Anyway, I'm not opposed to consolidation. I just think there are a couple of pitfalls that these organizations need to be wary of in their search to survive.

  2. Alena -
    I cannot agree with you more!
    I recently wrote about this in a bit of a different manner (http://passionforthepast.blogspot.com/2012/05/preserving-history.html), and I agree that small museums would definitely be much stronger as a team than as individual smaller entities.
    The fact that Higgins armory is going to be incorporated into the Worcester Art Museum is wonderful.
    We have something where I live called the Macomb County Historical Alliance, where all of the small historical societies gather together once a year to promote their local history.
    Unfortunately, it doesn't go much beyond the yearly meeting, and most of our buildings sadly remain visitor free...
    I can just imagine if the local societies pooled their resources and raised funds to build an open-air museum so our county's finest history can be brought together in a cohesive lay out.
    One can dream, right?
    Anyhow, check out what I wrote - - - I believe you might like it.

  3. Hahaha! I have to laugh at the way I wrote my first sentence in my comment! I'm not sure why I wrote it that way but it comes off that I disagree with you. Quite the opposite: I should have written something like "I agree with you 100%!"
    There...that's better.