Friday, May 25, 2007

The Museum as a Lifeline

Where I grew up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, there was no museum. That's not surprising, since there was no Movie Theater, bookstore nor medical clinic. The only "real" supermarket was a half hour away in good weather, and we bought our clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.

Lincoln was a depressed paper mill town, where the people pinned their hopes on the success of the new ski hill. For me, that ski hill, the bookmobile and museums were lifelines to imaginary worlds I hoped to inhabit someday.

Each year of my grade school career was punctuated by a class trip to a museum. In third grade we went to the Warren Museum, which only exists today in the faded memories of middle-aged men and women. It was filled with stuffed animals that came from places I had never hear of. On the way home, we picnicked at the Warren Rocket, a NASA space ship brought to New Hampshire by one of its native sons, the astronaut Alan B. Shepherd.

At the end of fifth grade, we rode the school bus to Sturbridge Village. Along the way, some of my classmates went through their first tollbooth. One girl (I assume dyslexic) looking back at the booth announced that they sold "pots".

As sixth graders we went to see the Fairbanks Museum -- another room filled with exotic creatures and objects -- and stopped at a sugarhouse to buy little maple sugar people. We celebrated the end of eighth grade by besieging Fort Ticonderoga. All 38 of us (thanks to my father, the school’s principal and a history buff) camped out at a nearby campground and reenacted various battle maneuvers.

These museum experiences were important to me, as were my visits to the museums of New York and Long Island with "Gram". She loved museums and took me to all of them over and over again. They were places for us to share imaginary adventures in far away places. One of our best voyages was inspired by the King Tut exhibit in 1979. When I graduated from college in 1986, I set off on a two-year bike trek to "revisit" many of these places I had shared with "Gram", including the pyramids of the Nile.

The museums I experienced, as a youth were as formative to me as ski races and Nancy Drew Mysteries. I feel grateful to them for the part they played in my becoming a happy and fulfilled person. I would like to help museums -- wherever they may be in the world -- to do the best they can do for kids like me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Batman Super-hero?

En 2002 je participais à un Forum International des Musées organisé à Paris. Les représentants de musées provenant de plus de 30 pays étaient invités à se présenter, exprimer leurs sentiments et surtout leurs besoins.

Nous-autres, professionnels avertis de la sphère muséale, recevions ces multiples doléances et apportions, dans la mesure de nos moyens, la solution ad hoc au cours de petites tables rondes prévues à cet effet.

Nous voyagions de plates-formes culturelles en pays exotiques quand je me retrouvai finalement assis face à un petit homme au regard pétillant. Il était le directeur d’un musée au Cambodge. Limitant les préambules au minimum il se pencha vers moi et me dit sur le ton de la confidence : « Je viens de rencontrer des informaticiens talentueux qui me proposaient des solutions extraordinaires dans le domaine du multimédia appliqué aux musées. Pour être franc avec vous mon problème actuel est de chasser les chauves-souris de mon musée. Pourriez-vous m’aider ? »

Il me faut avouer ici les limites de mes compétences de muséographe car je n’ai pu le gratifier que d’un franc éclat de rire.

Cinq années plus tard, j’ai le sentiment que si dans Héritance on peut entendre aussi inhéritance (héritage) notre organisation doit beaucoup à un héro plein de malice.

Jean Bermon

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The birth of Heritance: Juste une idée

Heritance was founded in Vermont in 2007, but the idea has its root in Paris five years earlier.

In 2002, Heritance co-founder, Jean Bermon, participated in SITEM, an international forum of museums organized in Paris. Representatives of museums from 30 countries were invited to share their feelings and needs with the assembly of museums professionals. The overwhelming message sent by presenters was that most museums lack the resources necessary to protect their public trust.

The participants in SITEM listened to each other’s concerns and worked together in ad hoc round tables to find solutions to some of the most pressing problems faced by these museums. By putting their heads together, they came up with a number of feasible responses.

Jean recounts the story of an encounter with one museum representative, the director of a museum in Cambodia. Without introduction, the man leaned towards Jean and confided : « I just met a talented computer programmer who proposed extraordinary multi-media technology for my museum. To be honest, however, my real problem is the bats. How do I get them out of my museum ? »

Jean laughed along with his colleague and took away an important lesson. Each museum has its own needs. The starting point for any museum intervention is a diagnosis of the museum’s unique situation and its existing resources. Furthermore, Jean learned that many of the problems plaguing museums do not require new technology or large capital expenditures (although these certainly do have their place). Often pertinent and timely information can mitigate, or even solve, a problem.

Our purpose at Heritance is to provide museums with technical services on site and on-line so that they can find and implement affordable solutions to their own problems.