Friday, March 27, 2015

Museum Lite

While researching places to visit in Omaha, I kept trying to find out information on the Durham museum. It was listed as being a partner with the Smithsonian and received traveling exhibits of their artifacts but not much else was talked about it. Figuring it was probably a historical museum from what little was said about it on its own website, we decided to give it a try. It is housed in an old grand central train station and the main hall is rather spectacular to look at. But once you go down a floor to the exhibit halls, everything changes.

For some reasons, museums across the country have been desperately trying to attract younger audiences to supplement the older generations who visit. They have been ripping out displays and putting in interactive displays for kids. It seems to me judging from my children's experience and mine, that they are effectively ruining the experience for everyone. Despite the interactive displays, the kids don't have enough to keep them engaged and the displays are so terribly dumbed down, that the adults have the same problem. Durham Museum, like so many others, has fallen victim to this phenomenon.

Half the museum contained some stripped down train cars geared towards kids running around and playing on them. It keeps them engaged for all of about ten minutes before they are bored. The rest of the museum has a half dozen rooms of disjointed displays of random objects loosely themed and appropriately placarded as to why we should care about them. They had a medical exhibit which due to my wife's profession, attracted us to the museum until we discovered that the entire display was a half dozen letters about medical related stuff hung in the corner of one room and a glass display box with a couple dozen medical instruments. Hardly the promised exhibit to take us back to the days of blood letting and magical cures that their website touted.

Also on our list of museums to see was the official Lewis and Clarke visitor's center which is located in Omaha. We walked into a massive four or five story building with great anticipation only to find out that the 40 feet of hallway we walked through to get to the information desk, a third of it formed into a gift shop, was essentially it. The rest of the building was just office space for the Department of Natural Resources. A small room off to one side had been converted into a movie theater so you could watch a heavily edited 20 minutes of the original 240 minute documentary film by Ken Burns entitled Lewis and Clarke: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery which I had seen many years ago. Again, most of the displayed items were geared towards children to play with, put on or touch.

Where are the days when you could see displayed focused on enlightening us on a particular aspect of our world? I can still find plenty of books that do this just fine but museums no longer count as a source of information in my opinion. Instead, they are nothing more than daycare centers for bored children. It truly is a shame.


sage said...

sorry for your experience (and I agree that often museums are dumbing down), but I'd go just to look at that great room of the old train station. It's beautiful.

Ed said...

Sage - The ceiling of the train station was great but down low, the unpictured portion, had been converted to a gift shop and some benches similar to what would have been in there. A five minute jaunt would see all there was to see but they way they have you set up, you would have to pay full fare to see that too.