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”.

6 Thoughts to “Discussion 6”

  1. Martin Gutoski

    Xochi, Using the Covid example for funding problems is not a typical situation unique to museums but to the economics impacted globally or at least within to the US for the past year.
    However, your example of the flower harvesters at a botanical garden reminds me of not just a living botanical garden but when I visited Katmai National Monument & Preserve at the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. A ranger gave a tour group to visitors who were shown the recovery of plant life that was occurring 50 years after the eruption of Novarupta volcano. She indicated not to pick any of the flowers that were blooming because they were necessary to the regrowth in the 100’s of feet of pumice and ash that blanketed the area after the eruption in 1918. This only made the visitors want to harvest them by pointing out the flowers.
    Your picture of the apparent heads being draped on the wall with plants for wigs was a bit low in resolution. But I assume this was a photo wall of donors? Many museums and libraries have used this method to raise funds for building programs or getting support for operations or displays. When the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai was being built, they had a fundraising campaign to finish the floors in their computer training lab. Donors were asked to buy a floor tile to make an outline of the huge Saturn IV rocket that launched the Apollo 11 moon mission.
    I bought a tile in the design that was part of the big booster rockets that launched the first man on the moon mission.

  2. Barbara Long

    Good Evening,

    Great post! I too thought, is this the future for physical museums to be replaced with virtual museums? There would be less expenses, as well as no building upkeep, staff, displays, or visitors. Would a virtual museum be cost affective? Thanks for sharing.

  3. Michael Hubert

    good article. I also wrote about the seal life center. about your virtual tour. due to covid I have taken some pretty cool virtual tours that I have found on Facebook or other sites. some are free and some they ask you to pay. now I have payed for some but not a lot , and the reason behind that is that my interest might not be to in that tour. so the ones that I pay for I really wanted to see. I think you could have a virtual tour for maybe a donation to the museum. or maybe by a pass that also funds that living center and also gets you access to the virtual tours. I am sure that there is a way to be profitable for everyone.

  4. Erin Gingrich

    That is an interesting question. I have personally been very resistant to virtual tours so I’m not sure if I should weigh in without any experiences that are related to the topic but with that said, I think that it could be something that is done both ways, as with many types of content on the internet things being shown with adds and without adds could be how the tours are not exclusive but could still make revenue for the museum. A museum members pass or add free tour would enable for revenue for those with the means to contribute or those that want extra content. As I stated I am not interested in a virtual tour but if I had to pay for it I would be less likely to. Quyana!

    1. Barbara Long

      Good Evening Erin,
      I’ve read that funding is a difficult for some museums depending on their locations and the participation of the community. We had this discussion in biology years ago. Technological advances have become very creative with visual affects. I believe an exceptional virtual tour may draw people to a rare or unique exhibit. Museums encompass a vast network of creative individuals committed to a range of diverse topics and their implementations. This helps to obtain finding from benefactors who contribute often or on a continuous basis to particular museums. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Angela Linn

    I too, have conflicting feelings about virtual tours and charging for them. When UAMN was completely closed between March 13 and the beginning of July, we projected that we lost around $1M in revenue. We have continued to struggle to find ways to bring in funding to pay our staff (who took a 20% contract reduction for about seven months in order to help offset our budget losses) while also continuing to serve our community. My email inbox FILLED with services and webinars touting the ways you could “monetize your virtual offerings” from virtual tours to online workshops. I still am not sure about those things… but museums have to pay our staff, we have to keep the lights on and the security systems up and running, and the temperature and humidity controls fully-functioning because that is how we preserve the collections and keep them safe for our current and future populations.
    I agree the funding model needs to change – I firmly believe museums should be funded in the same way as libraries and then we could make them free to everyone, not just those who can afford a membership or know when to come on the sponsored free days. The work of museum staff could then we focused on providing better access, involving more diverse perspectives, and developing truly innovative projects – instead of just trying to keep the lights on.

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