On October 3, staff and volunteers from more than 20 New England history museums attended a half-day workshop at the Natick History Museum, “Developing Active Collections at Your Museum,” with independent curator and author Rainey Tisdale. The workshop was the first public event to be held in the newly-restored Natick History Museum, which will reopen on October 21.
Tisdale is a co-founder of the influential Active Collections movement, which advocates for leaner, more focused collections at small history museums. The movement urges practical reforms to industry norms, including easing the process of inter-institutional loans, streamlining the deaccessioning of objects lacking provenance or educational value, and assigning collections objects to “tiers” according to their usefulness in sharing important local stories with museum audiences.
“Artifacts are a deeply powerful way to connect with the past,” writes Tisdale, who directed the Old State House Museum for eight years and taught in the Tufts University museum studies program. “But some objects support our missions better than others—not based on monetary value or rarity, but based on the stories they tell and the ideas they illuminate. The ones that provide the most public value should get the largest share of our time and resources.”
Attendees at the October 3 event included curators and directors of small history museums and historical societies throughout Massachusetts and from Connecticut and Maine. Framingham History Center director Annie Murphy called the workshop “fantastic,” adding “I’m going to get [Tisdale’s] book and make it required reading among staff.”
Rainey Tisdale is co-author, with Linda Norris, of Creativity in Museum Practice (2013) and co-editor of Active Collections (2017). For more about the Active Collections movement, please visit www.activecollections.org.