Although I think living museums are niche… only relevant to the people that take interest to them they can possess many problems ranging from upkeep, personnel staffing to security breaches. Living history museum don’t move me. I think they are cool and great for children because it’s a way of telling history through performance art. I don’t particularly like having actors around to explain a museum collection to me. Docents and tour guide I can follow and get with, but the costumed people can stay far away for me allow me to read the kiosks to learn on my own.

While living museums that retell and/or re-enact historical events are challenged with staffing actors and volunteers they do services thousands if not millions of people each year who visit them across the United States and the world. Some like the Civil War and Ok Corral are fascinating and entertaining while at the same time the stories they tell can be harmful to people who are either inaccurately portrayed or were suffering from oppression or simply collateral damage. I think the first time I saw a re-enactment was in Coffeyville, Kansas at the Dalton Defenders and Coffeyville History Museum. It centered around a gunfight and the capture of the Dalton Gang after they robbed the bank. Even it wasn’t for a few of the souvenirs I still have, I’d likely not remember this experience.

Zoos irk me once I became an adult and realized how sad some of the animals appeared to me. Wait. Before I say more about how zoos suck, let me say that one year for my birthday, my girlfriend at the time arranged for me to have a private visit with the reptiles where one of her friends worked. Now that was a really cool experience, but I guess it was because I got a behind-the-scenes tour.

The more I think about Living Collections, the ones I enjoy the most are botanical gardens. There’s a beautiful one in Upstate NY that sits how on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx was a very lovely experience for my family and I. I remember my daughter was only two years old at the time and had a great time. However, that is all I have to say about living collections. The botanical gardens are the best places but the ones that depict historical events are so blah to me. I just don’t get them and think their issues must come from the challenges of keeping actors and volunteers on staff. I can imagine many of those living collections fell on difficult times during the pandemic because their existence relies on in-person audiences. I’m not sure how many and if any were able to continue their services virtually but I’m sure some did.

So my question is, if you were to open or start a Living Collections, what it would be? I would do something on the lines of James Luna’s “Artifact Piece” (1987-1990) in which he laid down in sand as if he was an artifact to make a statement about the way Indigenous people are viewed as historical objects and not people.

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