Like most of our colleagues I strongly believe that cultural institutions have certain responsibilities when interpreting history, particularly in regards to cultural narratives. But what exactly does this mean to each of us? Can there be consensus on how museums should and should not interpret? Are there topics, artifacts or stories that should be excluded from display? Should methodologies change from history museums to art organizations and if so, how?

Recently the Boston Museum of Fine Arts faced a protest over a public program involving visitors donning kimonos. While this controversy had the public, and museum professionals, taking sides on whether this type of programming is appropriate or not, this technique is a very common one in our field. History organizations are attempting to reach out to changing communities in a wide variety of ways, interpreting recent events as well as incorporating unusual strategies. However, the very communities and cultures we are representing are often left out of the interpretive process, with the best of intentions leading to potential misunderstandings. Concerns about financial sustainability or striving for innovative programs have sometimes led to initiatives that reflect the communities in unintended ways.

During this discussion we will explore the various ways that history museums RE-present culture and discuss relationships of community engagement. Session participants will be asked to explore examples of projects that have been successful and others that have been less so.

—Robert Forloney

Robert Forloney is a Cultural Institution Consultant working with a number of clients to develop innovative programs, train interpreters and facilitate strategic planning. He has worked in the museum field for almost twenty years- as a teacher for the New York City Museum School as well as an educator, administrator and consultant at institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the Morgan Library, American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. In addition he has formally taught as a classroom teacher for the New York City Museum School, adjunct faculty at Goucher College and lecturer for multiple universities. Whether working with an art institution or a history museum, Robert attempts to make objects and images accessible to diverse audiences through facilitating conversations as well as utilizing experiential learning techniques.

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