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July 2012

Poppy's milk so bitter, so sweet

By Biomedicine in museums

Our own Jesper Vaczy Kragh has just reviewed Thomas Dormandy’s Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream (Yale UP) in yeasterday’s online issue of Times Higher Education:

By tracing the early history of opium, Dormandy shows that drug addiction and prohibition are recent inventions. In classical antiquity, opium was praised by poets and priests, and even the medical oracle of the Roman Empire, Galen, had nothing to say about the dangers of addiction. Whereas excesses in alcohol use were well known and often punished in Rome, opium was not linked with criminal or immoral behaviour.

I really don’t know if I would prefer to be a nicotinist, an alcoholist or an opium addict. It’s probably a question of ‘personalised medicine’. We know there is a strong genetic component in the body’s reaction to alcohol. Our reactions to opium and other drugs too are probably a complicated mix of genetic predisposition and current metabolic state.

So what works for one person, at one stage of life, doesn’t necessarily work for somebody else, and vice versa. What’s most important is to bring drug use out of the moral sphere and treat it as all other kinds of more or less dangerous or beneficial (or both, depending on the dosis) interactions between our bodies and the rest of the material world.

Who is (are) anonymous MuseTrain? Is it this EU-Turkey project?

By Biomedicine in museums

Suddenly, last weekend, the museum blogosphere was surprised by a new museum website, MuseTrain, which has already given rise to lots of ripples on Twitter.

Behind the site, with the cryptohumble subtitle “We have some suggestions…”, is a so far anonymous group of people, who have “been working in and around all kinds of museums (art, science & technology centers, history, cultural sites, zoos and aquaria, and others) long enough to have seen, experienced, and led a couple of cycles of change”. Apparently seasoned museum professionals!

MuseTrain had probably gone unnoticed for a while, hadn’t it been for their first post — a rich and sometimes provocative 100 bullet point manifesto, including the following (my favourites):

  • Your museum likely has a building which has a history. Don’t fight it, feel it.
  • Interact with as many different people in as many ways as you can. Your message is the same, the medium changes.
  • Make visitors part of the experience. Ask them to participate in your ideas and stories.
  • Aim to be a place of delight and wonderment.
  • Create frameworks that let visitors do more with your collections and ideas than you can imagine.
  • Every time you create a destination (a website, an app, a publication, an exhibition), build it on top of a service and use it as an example of what’s possible.
  • The “institutional voice” is a fallacy. Your organization is a collection of individual voices.
  • Individual voices should be heard and recognizable as such.
  • Different voices talk  to different audiences in different ways.
  • Let visitors take away a little part of you.
  • Revel in authenticity. It’s one of the things that sets a museum apart.
  • Stop settling for “best practices.” They are “acceptable practices” at best.
  • When you start to forget about your visitors, they start to forget about you.
  • Don’t endlessly create experiments, prototypes, and pilot programs. They become excuses to not do the real thing.
  • Visitors rarely can imagine what they don’t know they need. Demonstrate the future to them.
  • Young people aren’t full of good ideas about museums. But neither are old people.
  • Understand the the difference between authoritarian and authoritive. The former is suicide, the latter is relevance.

The MuseTrain people say they will go into deeper detail on these and other points and they welcome dialogue. But in order to engage with others, I think they have to disclose their personal identities. It was a good idea to be anonymous in this very first step, but the anonymous show cannot go on. When they tell museums that “the ‘institutional voice’ is a fallacy” and that “your organization is a collection of individual voices”, they should live as they teach.

Added on 6 July: Maybe it’s an offspring of this project:

Multilateral Trainings for Museum Professionals (MUSE – TRAIN) project is planned complying with the priority cited that is “increasing the experience and knowledge of the museum professionals and to improve the current and new forming professional subject and adequacy fields such as their museum management, exhibition, curation (collection choice, design, management and organization) and their other expertise”.