Unlike the declining traditional museum, 'new museums' compete with electronic media and leisure pursuits, by offering visitors multi-sensory experience and emotional identification with the past. The panel explores museums as creative, negotiated sites of interaction, performance and commemoration.
The 'classical' museum, in which genteel publics came to peer in respectful silence at dusty artifacts selected by venerable curators, has undergone severe crisis. Falling numbers of visitors, massive expenditures, and competition from electronic media, all threaten its future. In response, museums have come to construct their edifices, exhibits and presentations to cater to public thirst for 'experience' in the here and now - both sensory and emotional. Our panel seeks to explore museums as negotiated places of performance and commitment. How do museum personnel, curators, architects and designers mobilize local, national and global architectural elements, technologies and aesthetics to create and market a multi-sensory experience that will attract a broad variety of visitors? How do visitors actively engage with artefacts and images to fashion autobiographical and collective memories in the molds of various presents? Insofar as many museums see commemoration as one of their main tasks, what communities and causes do they seek to legitimize through their performances? How do guides and narrators of various affiliations and subject positions present exhibits and negotiate meanings to create empathy or distance among visitors of a wide variety of (dis)engagements? How do tourism and commemoration mesh or conflict? To what extent do the presentations of curators, interpreters and guides impact on their self-understandings? We particularly welcome papers that provide diachronic or comparative perspectives on museum policies and performances and visitor interactions with them. We ask that participants address moral and political as well as aesthetic issues in performing the past.