The Importance of Museums

Laura Lott is CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, which helps develop standards and best practices for 4,500 museums in the US, including sustainable business models, museums’ growing role in the P-12 education ecosystem, and creative aging programming.

[Applause] [Music] thank you on we go and we're going to talk about
the hearts of many communities in the hearts of many communities are in a word our museums ask yourself a simple question what would our communities be like if there were no museums Laurel lot is the CEO of the American Alliance of museums with 4500 Museum directors and members and they are key to a vibrant Fabric in communities Across the Nation Welcome to our stage floral lot [Music] foreign good afternoon everyone it's great to be here at one of my favorite places on the planet Naples Florida and talking about one of my favorite things on the planet museums I wanted to start as we often do in museums with our educational missions I wanted to start with a recognition that the territory we now know is South Florida has been the traditional homelands of native nations including the tukesta the Calusa and their ancestors and is today the Sovereign
homelands of the Seminole and mikasuki native people have lived in Collier County for over 6 000 years probably much longer and we pay respects to their Elders past and present I hope you will visit one of the local museums here in in South Florida to learn more the am accredited atatiki Museum celebrates the culture and living history of the Seminole peoples just 90 minutes east of here and the Marco Island Historical Society shares 10 000 years of Marco Island history including what we know about the Colusa and their ancestors and they currently have for the first time here back at home important Calusa artifacts and artworks on loan from the Smithsonian and the Penn Museum so many museums so little time what do you think about when I say the word Museum do you think about a grand building
elaborate galleries dinosaur bones perplexing artwork do you think about augmented reality smart glasses to interact with exhibits or an AR viewfinder to watch Ice Age animals walk around La Brea Tar Pits how about a PhD program in comparative biology located at the American Museum of Natural History or mapping plant DNA at the desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix Arizona or protecting and restoring wildlife and habitat all around the world when you think about museums do you think about vaccination clinics like the national museum of Mexican art in the pilsner neighborhood in Chicago
or you've heard of food trucks have you heard about Museum trucks delivering science activities out into the community and sometimes delivering lunch boxes learning lunch boxes to Hungry children during the pandemic this is kosai in Columbus Ohio which partnered with a local food pantry when schools were closed and children weren't getting their lunches they said you feed their bellies and we will feed their minds or you might think about museums as a place to learn but far more than an occasional field trip museums have turned into full-time schools like the Louisiana Children's Museum in New Orleans who host students from the Langston Hughes Academy in their indoor and outdoor classrooms year round I'm here to change the way that you think about museums if you think about them at all and to challenge us collectively to find ways to activate these community centers to tackle some of the world's biggest challenges
I'm going to share with you a short video we believe that museums make the world better and that am makes museums better I believe they can change the world and that every person who engages with a museum can find the way that they can change the world museums are for lifelong learning and there's something in a museum for everyone the great discovery of museums for me was this idea that that you learn by choice and not by by obligation and strictly because I was able to go with school trips to museums I grew my entire interest in art history [Music] so as a teacher I always really looked hard for ways to integrate Museum learning and out of the classroom learning with my students so when I tell them okay you should you should come like grab my hand come inside with me
they were they had this look like amazement like oh this is so huge this is so wonderful and I told them and we can go inside the rooms and we can see art and we can see paintings we have a responsibility and obligation to our communities to not just be the keeper of their objects but also to lift up the stories from our communities foreign s serve as a space where Community histories are preserved where Community histories are living today they take care of heritages so I think museums are really important because if we do not have museums there's no Heritage there's no history to talk about the public trusts us to tell the truth we've got a real responsibility to the public to help educate to help provide information to
help provide a safe place to talk about the issues of our culture but it's in that museum that I found solace that I found Comfort whether it's you know kind of a Museum of Technology a museum of natural history a museum of American History or something like that you step out of the bubble that you've kind of created around yourself and thrust yourself into a world that has existed a world that might exist in the future and it just awakens your soul it awakens your mind in ways that you don't find anywhere else [Music] museums are more than nice to have they play a vital role in society museums are active Dynamic places nothing makes me bristle more than when a politician says sort of dismissively put it in a museum
we are certainly not the nation's attic museums don't just hold artifacts they hold they hold them up they tell the stories behind them the stories that connect us as people connect us across history connect us around the globe and connect us across town they teach but perhaps more importantly museums Inspire us to be curious about the world around us and help us to understand the viewpoints of others museums can be a respite an opportunity to reflect to process to transcend our current circumstances museums can Inspire us about the human Spirit our ability to overcome great struggles and to achieve great things there are many different kinds of museums I've already shared a sampling of their breadth the American Alliance of museums is a community of more than 35 000 Museum professionals and museums
from A to Z Art Museums to zoos and everything in between Children's Museums science centers historic houses and from the tiny all volunteer Train Museum in my neighborhood in Northern Virginia to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the museums of the Smithsonian Institution all of these different museums are important in many different ways though most museums are alike in having fairly precarious and rapidly changing business models in the U.S most museums receive less than 25 percent of their budgets from federal state or local government many much less than that though they have an error of permanence we cannot take for granted that museums will always just be there at the height of the pandemic one-third of museums were at risk of closing permanently still to many were saved by relief funding but still today 6 000 institutions don't aren't sure how they will survive
many of these are Science and Technology Centers or Children's Museums the hardest hit when museums were shuttered for an average of 28 weeks across the last two years and many of those are in small and Rural communities places where they are the only Museum a person might ever be able to visit to to learn from or to be inspired by these museums closing would only widen the gap between the Haves and the have-nots I want to leave you today with just three reasons we must pay more attention to these vital places and make sure that they not just survive but Thrive far into the future first museums are economic engines and essential Community infrastructure second in these troubled times recovering from a global pandemic dealing with renewed racial tensions divisive National politics and and now a war and Ukraine museums are integral to rebuilding our communities our dialogue
with each other and to rebuilding trust and museums are part of addressing the world's great challenges from ages on racism and economic disparity two issues of climate change and scientific literacy first is economic engines and Community infrastructure there are more museums in the United States than there are Starbucks and McDonald's restaurants combined and they too are on every corner of our country if you combine the attendance that all major league sporting events and every amusement park visit in the country you wouldn't come close to the annual attendance at museums in the U.S over 850 million visits each year pre-pandemic of course museums are a 50 billion dollar industry contributing 2.3 billion to the Florida economy alone and they employ over 700 000 people and though most are non-profit organizations museums
contribute 12 billion dollars in federal state and local tax revenue this all according to a 2017 study done by the American Alliance and museums the Mellon foundation and Oxford economics and as a vital part of the infrastructure in communities museums are serving as Schools they're they are warming shelters following extreme weather events and blood donation sites they're registering people to vote over the past two years Museum stepped up to meet all sorts of community needs from donating PPE to Growing food in their Gardens to providing online learning and as I mentioned serving as vaccination sites now why would vaccine hesitant populations go to a museum to be vaccinated because museums are trusted more than scientists I'm sorry to say more than other nonprofits more than media government and business in fact museums are only the only thing more trusted than museums
by the public is their family and friends why people told us it's because museums are fact-based museums present Real objects and research museums allow people to draw their own conclusions this trust museums have is so valuable and it's a huge responsibility to make sure they're sharing many different stories and viewpoints in our digital fake news altered video World museums help us get back to authenticity real artifacts primary sources truth these days it's become harder to have a dialogue with those who don't immediately share our beliefs more difficult to talk about nuance and balance and easier than ever to isolate ourselves and simply avoid learning about different perspectives museums have a role in helping us to do better they're convening places that encourage reflection and conversation museums help us grapple with our history give us context to current events and
debates they invite us to consider different perspectives challenge our assumptions and the popular narrative the quick headline and engage more deeply with the rest of the story and by putting us in the shoes of others museums help to build empathy well across the country many museums were deemed non-essential for a period of time during the pandemic they are indeed essential to the next steps of our communal healing process museums give us hope for the future they remind us that humankind has endured tough times before they provide a spark to let our imaginations run wild about what the future holds and how we can create the future we imagine the future we want and with a growing Mental Health crisis in our country museums are a respite museums nourish our minds and our Spirits they offer a chance to slow down to reflect to get lost in a moment to find peace and to just feel better
they nourish our relationships with each other providing moments of joy as we come together once again to enjoy the unique shared experiences museums provide whether in history art science or the beauty of the natural world museums need people and people need Beauty and the healing power of arts and culture now more than ever finally there are no shortages of challenges to in our to our world and to our communities museums are helping to address many of the biggest challenges name any issue and all find a museum working on it in their community and Beyond museums are using lessons of the Holocaust to increase law enforcement's understanding of their role as protectors they're helping communities learn and address the effects of climate change they're inspiring and training the next generation of scientists innovators and a scientifically literate citizenry translating sometimes hard to understand
Concepts into everyday actions that we can take to protect ourselves our communities and our world museums are helping to combat ageism by the year 2035 there will be more people over the age of 65 that in the U.S than children 17 and younger together these two age cohorts will constitute more than half of our country's population the American Alliance and museums just led a three-year program focused on Creative aging we selected and convened over 50 museums from across the country to take a fresh look at how museums can serve older adults who are staying active longer and wanting to contribute to learn and to create this work is changing the way museums serve this growing segment of our population and teaching museums how they can be agents in fighting ageism issues big and small local and Global museums are actively working with Partners to address many of them the
museum field is thinking bigger innovating faster and reaching further engaging more diverse audiences than ever before to enrich our world like never before the American Alliance and museums convenes and leads museums from Across the Nation to catalyze that change to build stronger collaborations and to scale up innovations that work that will help us build the just and sustainable world we all want we invite you to join us in this work thank you and I'll leave you with one final video about the alliance [Music] the mission of the American Alliance and museums is to Champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with our members and allies has been putting its words into action here is an organization with a membership I'm somewhere around 35
000. professionals it's really exciting about aam is that it's not only providing critical discourse but it's actually leading the field serving as a catalyst aam also provides a national and at times even International perspective for us to see what's happening across the field as a small institution we have really relied on aam for a number of things we went through the map program and that was very beneficial in moving our institution forward we also rely on their bookstore and their sample documents a lot of the credit for anything I've done well and my team has done well I give to my experiences with am the American Alliance and Museum's annual meeting is the one convening where four to five thousand Museum professionals get together to have these discussions share their ideas it's where thought leadership really happens and where relationships are formed you connect with people you find out you
hear interesting things and here at VM it's more than four thousand depending so it's more than 4 000 experience that you can learn from American Alliance and museums through its accreditation program and its Continuum of Excellence sets the standards for excellent work in the field accreditation became a leverage to help us improve so we actually got accredited 10 years later in 2014. we received our accreditation and it was a huge milestone and it was a great accomplishment for the board and staff and we're only the fifth Museum accredited in Hawaii for me it's this exchange of ideas thinking about critical things that are affecting our institution and being able to turn to AEM for guidance and support Champion museums and nurturing Excellence is part of the DNA of the American Alliance and museums am is proud to play a vital role in rallying the field to really take a proactive stance well I am brings together people from diverse museums and puts us all together in one meeting
their advocacy is very important it's the rising ties it's going to lift all boats here this is an alliance rather than an association because it really underscores the fact that we're here for each other thank you very much [Applause]