I’ve just returned from the 2012 American Association of Museums Annual Conference and aside from attending some fabulous sessions on everything from museum business models to docent technology strategies, I was able to visit a few awesome Minnesotan museums and participated in some amazing museum EXPERIENCES. I’m purposefully using ALL CAPS for the word EXPERIENCE, because like the extra-hefty portions of food served during my Midwestern meals, the two museums served up EXPERIENCE in healthy doses. While my stomach (and waist line) had a difficult time gulping down the food, my mind fully gorged on the Mill City Museum and the Minnesota History Center.
You may be wondering- Hey Marcos, why didn’t you go to any art museums? Well, I really wanted to (especially the Walker), but it wasn’t in the cards, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to see some out-of-field museums. I would have never thought to visit the Mill City Museum had not EDCOM (the professional network for museum education) hosted their annual reception there. The fine folks at the MCM opened their doors to us on a Sunday night, and after the general hoopla of awards and welcomes, we were able to explore this gigantic museum. The MCM is on the grounds of an old working factory, one that had a devastating fire in the 90’s, but through some amazing civic pride, was transformed into one of the most intriguing experiences I’ve had in a long time. As I descended downstairs to an area called the ruins, I was able to visit a giant courtyard that showcased both the beauty of a ruined site, but also the innovation of new and old construction. Inside the museum, I took a journey on an elevator that was unlike any museum experience I’ve had. A group of about 30 of us crammed into an old freight elevator, and it stopped on multiple floors. Each time the doors opened, we were privy to hear the voices of old mill workers and see activities that occurred through its history. It was a little like Disney’s Tower of Terror, except without the terror, and at the end we arrived at the top with spectacular views of the Mississippi.
I couldn’t take any pictures while in the elevator, but if you are ever in Minnesota, this experience is not to be missed. Other than the elevator, I thought the exhibitions were really elegant, and provided lots of memorable experiences including beautiful wooden sculptures of people who would have worked in the mill, and a giant Bisquick sign. I believe that all museums should have something to pose with, and my family sticks to Bisquick for all their southern baking needs.
On Monday night, I received a giant dose of Minnesota history at the Minnesota History Center. This museum had it all, including a touchable armored car, a walk-through house that showcased different families through time, and a real sense of innovation in front end exhibition evaluation (more about that in another post). One of the best experiences in the museum was a walk in basement that recreated the feeling of being in a tornado. Using oral histories of folks who survived a devastating tornado, we were cast as a family waiting out the storm in a cellar. The effects were great, the stories were moving, and I have a new appreciation for how scary it must be to go through the experience.
Not quite as emotionally moving, but physically moving, was an experience where I was grain going through a mill (Grainland). It was really refreshing to be in a history museum that valued full-body kinesthetic learning, and I learned something about how wheat travels through a mill.
Perhaps the strangest, but most fun experience I had was the most everyday experience possible. While walking through a house that was set up to showcase how different families have moved in and out of Minnesota throughout the last 100 or so years, I ended up in a recreated backyard featuring Minnesota games- including drop the pin in the jar. You had to take 5 pins and drop them in a jar while leaning over in a lawn chair. I had never played this game in my life, but for some reason I was drawn to this simple experience (and so were countless others). After 4 tries I was able to get one pin in the jar, but I felt a little closer to Minnesota, and it was definitely an experience I won’t forget (and I think I’ll always remember the MHC because of that small experience).
There are so many interesting places that I didn’t get to visit in Minnesota, and it definitely requires a return visit. My father’s family lived in Minnesota before moving to Florida, so it was a great opportunity to connect with a family locale that I’m not as familiar with, and rekindle my love affair of museum EXPERIENCES once again.