Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Carol Krukoff and the Types of Museums

For my Social Theory class we were supposed to see a social worker speak and write about it in some form. Unfortunately, all of the interesting talks available to me this semester were are on class dates ARGH! So when I heard the museum educator Carol Krukoff would be lecturing to my Museum Education class I decided to see if I could make her work as my social theorist. After all, educators of any kind are constantly reassessing the environment around them and interpreting things about the world to their students or visitors.

When Carol walked in I felt humbled, here was this woman who had to be at least 75 years old still very much involved with the museum education community. Carol is a Chicago legend. She began her work at the Chicago History Museum, then worked in the education department at the Naper Settlement (a landmark museum) and now is the Director of Education at the Oriental Institute of Chicago (at University of Chicago). In addition, she is a grant reader for IMLS (museum and library services) and allocates thousands of dollars a year to those trying to do something profound in the museum community. Needless to say, Carol knew a lot about museum governance which was the topic she would be speaking on in class.

She explained that there were four main types of museums: private/non-for-profit, public museum, university museum, and public university museum. Each have a different hierarchy. For example, the University museum educator reports to the Board of Trustees at the University, the President of the University, the Provost, the Dean of the Department, the Department Chair, and then finally the director of the museum. Carol talked about how fast or slow changes can be made depending on how many people have to approve it and how having so many people to go through can affect the culture of the museum. Meaning, how collaboratively the educators, curators and other staff work together. She also discussed how sometimes having so many people to go through can be a good thing. A museum needs layers as a checks and balances system to make sure that there is not just change for change sake.

Carol also talked about the stability of the different kinds of museums within the economic crisis. As a class, we decided that public art museums are in the best position because they will always be funded by the government. While some of the staff jobs might be cut like other museums, it is unlikely that the museum will be shut down because they are a sign of a flourishing society. The government does not want our country to seem poor even though it might be and they definitely do not want it to be seen as an under-cultured country. This leads to a larger question of the function of museums in our American society. It is place for groups to gather, it is a place for the education of society, it is where priceless pieces are held and displayed. A museum is a monument in our cities and shows that we are still a great world power. Anyways, I'm getting a little off track but I think Carol's main point was not only how museums function internally, but also how they become symbols for our community and how they interact with groups within these communities.

I was so fortunate to meet someone who does exactly what I want to do. Our class had a great discussion about the roles of educators in museums and our obligations. To see the work Carol Krukoff has been doing at her museum, visit the Oriental Institute of Chicago on the University of Chicago campus or visit their website .


  1. You write that your class "decided that public art museums are in the best position" during a crisis because of government funding and what seems to be the assumption the government will be unwilling to shut down a museum. While I imagine there is some "truth" to that, I am interested in the history of public museums and how the government by "controlling the purse strings" can limit or "sway" a museum to not do exhibits of a particular nature. We can think about the controversy with the National Endowment for the Arts that that defunded "pornographic" or "perverse" projects (discussed in Maggie Nelson's book we read) or the more recent controversy at the Portrait Gallery in DC that was forced (I think) to remove a video piece by David Wajnarowicz.

    Such controversies are not limited to public museums as private museums can be "choosier" or "pickier" about what they show...but as a public institution, such choices are much more difficult and fraught with the different sides and opinions on "art". To bring this to your blog post, in difficult economic times, is it more complicated to get "non-traditional" art shows commissioned because doing so might bring about critiques about the "superfluous" nature of art or how it is a waste of taxpayer dollars when people are unemployed (flawed arguments to be sure, but arguments that nonetheless emerge in crises)

  2. interesting post, and really interesting response. i wonder too about teh 'best position' statement. i think public museums, while perhaps not in danger of ever completely folding, are much less willing to push the conversation or develop real innovation, mainly because it isn't "safe" and taxpayers don't like their money being "wasted".

  3. Someone actually brought up the point in class that one of the restrictions of a public museum is censorship. We talked about the example of the "West as America" exhibit which reinterpreted the story of the American West at the Smithsonian (a public museum). Because it is a public museum, perhaps people expect it to hold a certain set of values. Whereas a private museum especially a contemporary art museum might be expected to have more "outside the box" exhibits.