Tarin Jones reflects on his experience at the 2022 Building Museums Symposium.
One session at this year’s Building Museum Symposium, “Red Flags: Sharing Lessons Learned to Help Keep Your Project on Track,” discussed the role of ethical planning in the museum industry. The panelists outlined critical “Sins of Omission,” representing red flags for museums’ long-term planning and structure. Their critiques of today’s museum practices were complemented with case studies, anecdotes, and inspiring examples of successful projects. As a prospective graduate student of preservation at Pratt Institute, I was eager to understand their experience developing museum facilities to serve an expanding audience for future generations. I believe museum programs, exhibitions, facilities, and visitor engagement are intertwined with a building’s architecture. The key is to craft building campaigns and restoration projects with positive and active problem-solving individuals that can adapt to evolving museum programming.
The benefits of sustaining museum buildings allow the work curated inside to be reinterpreted for new communities and discussed in contemporary spaces. Through this practice, museum professionals draw on diverse perspectives from architects, politicians, planners, conservators, and, most importantly, the public. Initially, I struggled to grasp beyond the myriad of programming, designing, and construction projects that a standard museum may need to survive climate change or adaptive reuse. I couldn’t bypass the conventional social and physical formation of museum practices and, thus, found that red flags clouded my judgment of the profession. Now that I am a member of a long-term project— 50 to 100 years—I feel more comfortable in my role. The panelists underscored that growth is an evolution, and building flexibility at the outset supports core objectives. I can’t retrofit every issue. What has excited me are the issues that will prevail after I’m gone. The value I add to conversations, exhibitions, advisory meetings, and planning now is influential to future growth.
For instance, my work with arts management consultants as Programs and Exhibition Manager at The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design echoed the sentiment of planning in campaigns to expand museums. By inviting productive stakeholders to have unfiltered conversations, proclaiming a righteous mission and executing programs that align with local communities and their social efforts, and listening to advisors with interdisciplinary perspectives, we can begin to develop adaptable buildings for exemplary cultural programs. Marcy Goodwin, President of M. Goodwin Museum Planning Inc., spoke about the interconnectivity in museum practice and culture. She said, “If you’ve ever worked in a museum, you know, everything is interconnected.”
This sentiment never resonated more in today’s model of museums. Creating a strategy involves addressing parameters that exist collaboratively. While a project’s red flags may be disregarded due to financial or time constraints, transparency between institutions and community members creates relationships of accountability and support. I believe museums exhibit objects on view, buildings as art, and sites as a backdrop to community dialogue. This approach results in projects that contribute to reckonings throughout the museum, rather than particular areas of interest that often remain unnoticed.