There are many complications that occur when working with living collections that are specific to the needs of particular institutions. I’ve been to many living collections without truly realizing that was the type of museum I was visiting. I think the overarching complication that comes up with living collections is a lack of funding. As alaskans we saw this happen to one of our own collections this last summer. Because Covid-19 kept visitors out of the Seward Sea Life Center, there was a lack of revenue from in person attendance, the aquarium was in danger of having to close it’s door. Luckily, there was an outpouring of support from local communities that kept the Center afloat. The issue of funding was also a huge factor at my old universities Greenhouses. The greenhouse housed large amounts of plants from all over the world for educational study, but was also open to the public for personal visitation. Every year the Botany club had to hold huge fundraisers as the budget to keep the greenhouse opened continued to get cut every year. Another example of funding woes happened when I visited a slate mill museum. The issues for this living collection didn’t come from simply a lack of funding but a lack of foresight. A couple years before I visited, the museum had an large influx of funding that lead to an ambitious expansion by the museum that was unsustainable in the long run. Once the funding ran out for the project, the museum was left with too much on it’s plate to maintaining itself as it’s normal level. The staff had to be cut and certain areas were closed to the public on certain days. The issue of funding seems to reach to all corners of the museum world and it constantly makes me question what it considered a priority. With all the good and educational applications museums offer it seems funding should never be in question and perhaps with the addition of virtual tours that rose to prominence over the last year, the reach of museums will grow and funds can come from a variety of outlets. This train of thought has me asking, do you think museums should charge for virtual tours? perhaps at a very reduced rate compared to visiting in person? Would that stop you from taking a virtual tour?
The other main complication for them was preservation. I’ve seen this in a number of gardens and arboretums I’ve visited over the years. Without proper funding it can be hard to preserve the integrity of these types of living collections. It never helps when people stray from paths or pick up trinkets or momentos. I remember one time when I was at a rose garden with my mother and we watched a group of about eight women each cut a rose for themselves. I was pretty shocked at their lack of respect for the garden and the bald spot in the rose bushes they left behind. I image it must be hard to preserve living collections without mutual respect between the Collection and the Visitors. However my positive and uplifting experiences I’ve had at living museums, far outweigh the few disrespectful individuals I’ve encountered at such facilities. It just always makes me sad to think “if everyone did that, we wouldn’t have places like these”.