Synergies in the Museum and University Collaboration
Article written in collaboration with Indrajeet Yadav, Editorial direction Julien Vandanjon, Assistance Mariana Turiel.
How much is two plus two? If both twos act coherently, the synergy can take them beyond the skies. The sky’s not the limit, the mind is! Exactly the case with university-museum partnerships. But, only considerate minds on both sides can tap the boundless possibilities.
Where Theory Meets Practical
Collaborating with museums across five continents, the Arizona State University’s (ASU)’s Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiative launched the Sustainability in Science Museums Program in 2016. Sustainability scientists, experts, and museum professionals team up to tackle the burning issue of sustainability through guided mass participation.
Science and natural history museums were ASU’s choice of “science centres” for program execution. Why? Because people trust science museums! Any idea is only as good as its implementation. Successful implementation requires getting the end users on board. Precisely, here trust comes into play.
Museums in the United States alone host billion-plus visits every year. Of course, the role of museums transcends the mundane and enters the realm of romanticism where they can transform society by educating, supporting, and engaging public opinion. Faith truly can move mountains!
In 2003, American Museum of Natural History curators developed courses on the solar system, genetics, and the brain. New York State University was their first partner. Initial success saw the museum join forces with the Rutgers, Adams State, Western Governors, and Framingham State Universities.
These are only a couple of examples in what is now fast becoming a thriving ecosystem.
Symbiotic & Synergic
Museums make perfect extension arms for universities. Although their research creates tons of fresh data and insights, universities face an uphill task communicating the same in a language that the general public understands.
Partnering up with museums provides universities a practical field to test research ideas, improve mass communication through public interactions, and generate employment and/or internship opportunities for students.
Student researchers infuse fresh outlook and energy in the museum’s routine operations and events such as exhibitions. Besides, the alliance opens financial doors for the museum.
Chiara Bonacchi and Judy Willcockes identify the following objectives behind Museum-University partnerships in their report Realities and Impacts of Museum University Partnerships in England:
- Exchange Competence: Such associations enables museums connect to international and national associates, while universities get to interact with local communities and regional audiences.
- Build Resilience: Particularly in unpredictable economic climate by expanding funding, audiences, and student employability.
- Promote Research: Universities and students analyze museum collections and build research projects, while museums access their research skills and practices.
- Establish Institutional Reputation: Partnerships attract positive media attention and build trust.
- Engage the Broader Public: Publicity and student participation engages wider public opinion at the international and national levels.
- Support Student Education: Students utilize the museum as a laboratory and access prized research material. Museums benefit from the students’ fresh research approaches.
- Guide Innovation: Develop new ideas on research and its presentation, exhibition techniques, and museum procedures.
- Generate Fresh Audiences: Rising student participation spreads the word around, cultivating a broader audience.
- Reinforce Existing Relationships: Partnerships create positive vibes, evoking greater interest and engagement by existing associates.
- Create and Record Impact: Both partners execute something meaningful and record its effect.
Empathy: Bridging the Sectoral Divide
Partnerships bring in new audiences, help local communities, and up-skill staff. The transition from theory to practical is not seamless though. Many such associations are limited to single, short-term projects. Institutional resistance and sector differences create their own hurdles.
They say, the devil is in the detail. Hammering out categorical partnership objectives that protect the interests of all stakeholders creates fertile ground for lasting and transformational associations, something possible only with considerate visionaries on both sides.
Clearly defining work and financial responsibilities, and their timelines will fortify the foundation. A database of museums and universities will streamline the hunt for compatible partners. For only the on-boarding of everyone’s concerns forges a vibrant and sustainable association.