My name is Meredith Whitfield, and I’m a Museum Person.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a D.C. transplant, originally from Tennessee. My “real job” is in internet marketing, but I spend a lot of time volunteering at the Folger Shakespeare Library here in D.C. (and cheerleading for it on Twitter). I fell in love with museums while at the Folger, and I’m in the midst of applying to museology graduate programs.
Why do museums matter to you?
Museums serve so many purposes, especially when they’re accessible, community-friendly spaces. They create supplemental and nontraditional learning experiences, they’re an alternative to consumption-based activities, they start conversations, and they connect us to others through objects and stories. I especially love museums that offer many different types of engagement opportunities. When you choose among art, films, artifacts, activities, social events, an online presence, and whatever other assets the institution has created, the more likely you are to find something that resonates with you.
What is your dream museum job?
For a while, I was convinced that I wanted to be Emily Graslie when I grew up, but I think instead I would love to one day invent the position of Chief Access Officer at a historical collection. Wouldn’t it be cool to pile an exhibition into a food truck/bus/trailer/caravan and tour around the area with stops at community events, like The Uni Project does for libraries? The Folger’s First Folio tour program is so inspiring in this way; our folios are visiting all 50 states, dramatically increasing the ability for Shakespeare lovers to visit a folio AND encouraging more people to discover Shakespeare.
When you think of the perfect exhibition, what is in it?
I don’t care what’s in it, as long as there’s a great story informing it. The Voynich Manuscript visited the Folger recently, and getting to tell a mystery story about an indecipherable code really got people into the object. I also love exhibitions that incorporate an interactive element. It provides a concrete outlet for interpretation and can start interesting conversations among visitors.
What is the most bizarre museum you’ve ever visited?
The National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, MD. It is so worth the trip from D.C. to learn about military history, see how disease affects the human body, and see a row of fetal skeletons. It’s about a mile walk from the metro.
What frustrates you about the way museums operate today? On the flip side, what gives you hope for the future about the way museums operate today?
I’m so thrilled that museums seem to be moving past their more rigid, institutional pasts and are challenging industry standards in creative and interesting ways. It’s been so exciting, as a docent, to help contribute to the way the Folger is thinking about its visitor experience.
I hope one day that all museums will embrace the potential of technology like Cooper-Hewitt has done. Wouldn’t it be great if, for example, your Wikipedia or Google search let you know what artifacts related to your search live at institutions near you? If you could get, for free, the plans to 3D print your own mini Giacometti sculpture at the library? If your public library hosted a book club culminating in a tour of an exhibition curated as a companion to the book?
It’s so rewarding to live in a place where museum are mostly free, and I hope the future sees museums prioritized enough in other cities for this to become a trend. I want to see increased accessibility, exhibitions curated with underserved communities in mind, exhibitions that reflect and inform community trends and sentiments, greater responsiveness, and more FUN.
Thanks to Meredith for sharing her museum experiences with us. If you, or someone you know, is interested in participating in the “I’m a Museum Person” series, send us an email at email@example.com.