Power and Empowerment in the Encyclopedic Art Museum
Saffran, Jennifer Lynn
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CitationSaffran, Jennifer Lynn. 2015. Power and Empowerment in the Encyclopedic Art Museum. Master's thesis, Harvard University Extension School.
AbstractEncyclopedic art museums are repositories of power. They are based on a legacy that comes from the European aristocratic tradition and worldview. A century ago, when most American encyclopedic museums were founded, this model defined cultural legitimacy. This is no longer true. Visitors are essentially stepping into a foreign culture when they enter, so it is no wonder that they may feel somewhat disconnected.
In response, encyclopedic art museums have often addressed this situation by denying this legacy while still maintaining the structure and trappings of the past. Instead, what if the museum embraced this legacy of power openly and honestly, finding ways to make this knowledge accessible? While no encyclopedic art museum has the resources to completely retool overnight, what they can do is create responsive, flexible programming using what is already in place.
This thesis looks at the traditions of encyclopedic art museums in order to understand the problem. Next, the thesis examines teaching methodologies that “share authority” between academic institutions, the museum, and the visitors, encouraging visitors to think about power in general and how the idea of power may apply to their lives. The final product of this thesis is a docent-led tour curriculum based on four modules, with each module having at least four objects for discussion. The modules are Symbols of Power, Collective Power, The Power of the Individual, and The Power of Ideas. While these modules use art owned by the Worcester Art Museum, most of the objects are of a type that can be found in any encyclopedic art museum. Therefore, this curriculum could be adapted and used by others.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41935177