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For Your Consideration 8.2

We’re An Important Destination

According to the Travel Industry Association of America, twenty-seven percent of U.S. adults (53.6 million adults) took at least one trip in the previous year that included a visit to a historic place or museum that was more than 50 miles from their homes. June, July and August are the most popular months for cultural and historic travel. Traditionally, these are the months that docent programs gear down. Should we be reconsidering this tradition?

As Seen in the New York Times

The following is an excerpt from an article entitled, “Museums, Not Movies,” written by Mary Collins, who teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. The article appeared last Spring in the New York Times.

“My favorite item in all of the Smithsonian’s museums is the 100,000 year-old Stone Age ax that sits behind a counter in one of the rooms at the National Museum of Natural History. It is unique not only because it was Expertly shaped and balanced for a left-handed human ancestor, but also because anyone can touch it — a piece of ancient history that’s not locked up in a case.

When I held the ax in my palm and rolled my fingers around Its precisely chipped edges, I connected with its story in a way that surpassed everything else I had experienced during my tour of the exhibits. Not even the well-executed gem and mineral exhibit, with its dazzling samples, could compare with holding this object While doing research for a book, I visited all 14 of the Smithsonian’s museums in the Washington area. I was surprised by the stale state of some of the primary exhibits, . . . and I was pleased to learn a few weeks ago that the California businessman Kenneth Behring had donated $20 million to help that museum catch up with the times.

But I remain concerned about what the Smithsonian plans to do with this great gift. I came away from my research with the uneasy feeling that the “nations attic “has decided to transform itself into something more akin to the “nation’s entertainment complex.” . . . The Smithsonian has elected to bump its hands-on collection out of its original home to make way for a 3-D IMAX theater restaurant, and gift shop. . . . I just hope the Smithsonian doesn’t squander all of its new $20 million gift on geegaws. I hope it uses some of the money to champion the power of the authentic object. Td take a Stone Age ax over a movie ticket any day.”

“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 8.2 (Winter 1998-99): 13.

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