Friday, January 28, 2011

Journal 1: The Organization and Its Mission

The Higgins Armory Museum is a non-profit organization housing John Woodman Higgins' collection of arms and armor established in 1931. Higgins, who operated a steel plant, initially kept the collection at home but it outgrew the space. The collection of around 5,000 items includes mostly European pieces from the Middle Ages and Renaissance but also pieces from other eras and places, such as Greece, Japan, and Persia. The building itself, constructed in glass and steel, used new technology of it's time, and as a result has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980. (For more history:

Since 1979, a public board has operated the Museum and changed the original mission statement. Currently it states, “The Higgins Armory Museum is dedicated to exciting a passion for learning and discovery by engaging the broadest community with our collection of armor and arms in the context of the times and cultures in which they were created.” As shown by the mission statement, the museum's purpose is to educate in an interesting and enjoyable manner.

This statement is appropriate since the museum's collection and programs have the potential to appeal to a large audience, including people who already have an interest in history, weapons, or metal work but also children and people who might not know anything about the time periods addressed. While most of the exhibits are behind glass and similarly arranged to those in other museums, the programs give people a chance to interact with items from the collection, learn period martial arts, get more of a feel for medieval life, etc.

Still, as with most things, there is a lot of potential for improving how the mission statement is achieved. The biggest issue currently includes marketing events and programs. If people do not know about what the museum offers, the museum cannot engage them in learning. Another issue is changing the exhibits more often. Only about 1000 items are on display at a time, meaning people are not aware of the majority of the pieces in the museum. With more change, returning visitors have more opportunities to see something new, so the aspect of "discovery" is never lost. Fortunately the interim director, Suzanne Maas (also my internship supervisor) and other staff are dedicated to working on these issues. For instance, there are already plans for changing exhibits this year.

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