As interests shift and funding dwindles, it can be hard to keep a museum open. And after a museum ends its run and its building is shuttered, what happens to the collections? Some are acquired by libraries or absorbed by other museums where they are more the footnote than the focus, others disperse through auctions and lose all relationship with the broader story of which they were once a part.
The Arkansas River Historical Society Museum in Catoosa, Oklahoma, is one of these, as this week the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that its materials relating to the McClellan-Kerr navigation system along with Native American artifacts from the area would be relocated to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas. While this move is small on the international museum scale, it does raise interesting questions about what becomes of a museum once it closes, especially for museums that represent a particular era that is fading, with here that of the local historical society.
While the Oklahoma and Arkansas museum have a tight connection in their focus on the maritime history of the central United States, other museums in the country have less parallel moves. This month it was also reported that the Jensen Arctic Museum at Western Oregon University was closing due to a lack of funding. The museum — founded by researcher and collector Paul Jensen — will have its around 5,000 artifacts centered on the Arctic becoming an archive at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. This keeps them available in a way, although not in a public museum.
A similar transition happened when the much larger Women’s Museum in Dallas, a Smithsonian affiliate, closed in 2011 after only just over a decade in its 70,000-square-foot Art Deco building that had been created at a cost of $30 million. One of the only national museums devoted to women’s history was haunted by funding issues from almost the beginning, operating in a major deficit for much of its run, and after its closure its archives were acquired by Texas Woman’s University in Denton.
Yet even if archiving the museum in a library isn’t exactly the same as keeping it all visible and open, it does at least keep the collection together. When the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson closed in 2009, the over 1,000 items related to cowboy superstar Roy Rogers were auctioned at Christie’s. Even the taxidermy of Rogers’ trusty horse Trigger was sold for $266,500 to a Nebraska-based television channel. Museums devoted to a performer like Rogers whose popularity has faded tend to have a limited lifespan, as has also been the case with the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, which closed in October of 2010 due to a plunge in its attendance, which once rivaled the Hoover Dam. Liberace set up the museum to himself in 1979, and now its flashy costumes and car covered in gold flake and candelabra emblems are all stored away by the Liberace Foundation Board of Directors, with part of it planned to reopen in 2014 as the Liberace Entertainment Experience.
But physical closure doesn’t always mean the museum has to disappear. Milwaukee’s Black Holocaust Museum founded by James Cameron — a lynching survivor — as a memorial to enslavement, closed in 2008 due to financial difficulties, but reopened in 2012 as a virtual museum. And there’s always the possibility that another museum has their eye on the collections of these struggling institutions. Earlier this year, the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts announced that it was closing in December due to fundraising issues. The only American museum that’s completed devoted to armor, its around 2,000 objects will be staying in Worcester with a relocation to the Worcester Art Museum (along with its $3 million endowment). Yet while much of it will be displayed there, much will also be in storage.
It can be hard to sustain a small museum in the constantly shifting demographics of the United States, where what draws people one decade may seem dated or irrelevant in the next, but they still contain stories and history that is important to preserve. Yet often what is preserved is not the identity of the museum itself, but a shadow of its memory in the scattered objects and archived name.
The school denounced the rapper’s “anti-Black, antisemitic, racist and dangerous statements.”
Online, dozens of artists have posted tribute artworks in honor of Mohsen Shekari’s life and calling for the immediate release of protesters.
This week, news outlets flock to TikTok, New York Times staff strikes, the problem with the phrase “late-term abortion,” and was the North Pole once a forest?
The 11,000-year-old wall relief discovered in Southeastern Turkey may reflect humans’ changing roles in the natural world during the Neolithic Revolution.
The Brazilian artist asked the museum to remove his work from a show about the Black experience, calling the institution a “White man’s theater.”
In an era of fast fashion and sweatshop exploitation, the artist demonstrates how far an industry will go to keep workers out of the picture.
This adventurous theater festival returns in person with 36 artists and companies from nine countries performing at different venues across the city.
Both Don Ed Hardy and Laurie Steelink refuse to adhere to traditional artistic hierarchies, an attitude they have shared throughout their 30-year friendship.
It took over 37 hours to pull 1,900 miles of glass filament to create the garment, now on view at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Learn more about the New York-based, globally linked program and its upcoming discussions on art and society in the time of AI and data governance.
An insidious racism is at play in interviewer Henri Renaud’s attempt to groom Thelonious Monk for public consumption on French television.
The last few years at the museum have not been without controversy, and Decatur will inherit a record of workforce struggles.