Collaboration is the key to survival in today’s economic environment. It’s no longer enough to do what you’ve always done, no matter how well you do it. The competitive models of the past – pitting museum against museum for dollars and visitors – are failing. The museum business model MUST change if museums are to stay relevant and vital in this ever-changing world.
One way we can change the museum business model is to start working, supporting and succeeding together. The process may be fraught with pitfalls and false starts, but it’s necessary if museums are to remain cherished and trusted institutions.
Here’s an example. The Arizona Museum of Natural History (AZMNH) changed its mission years ago, moving away from history to focus on archaeology, geology, and paleontology. They offered a large collection – 75 years of prescription files from a local pharmacy – to the Mesa Historical Museum (MHM), the nearby local history museum. A medical archivist saw no medical value in this collection, but the prescription files did have names and addresses of patients and doctors, along with dates showing who was where and when.
MHM was not able to accept the offer, but my institution, the Chandler Museum located in a neighboring city, could; we saw this collection as a genealogist’s dream. (Don’t worry, we’re not violating anyone’s privacy; we’re only building a database of names, addresses, and dates.)
While we’ve only just begun this huge project, we nonetheless feel that this is a positive example of museums working to accomplish what’s best for one another, for this large and valuable collection, and for our neighboring communities here in the East Valley.
So, what collaborations have you undertaken? What positive experiences have you had?