Mindset Shift

Shifting Your Focus to Create a Sense of Place
Preserving and Creating Local Culture

A local approach is about shifting your frame of reference, and thinking about your institution from a perspective that is inclusive and reflective of your community. A local approach is fundamentally not about the end product of the exhibit or the new museum. There are far more linear and direct paths to take if that were the primary goal. The local path is bumpy, colorful, disjointed, meandering, and not at all about efficiency. It is not necessarily efficient to look for reclaimed wood flooring on Craigslist, or to talk with your neighbor about his mother’s egg collection that he’d like to donate, or to have grade school children conducting your neighborhood field research. However, magic happens when you take the meandering path—building local partnerships; honoring local knowledge, people, culture and environment; and working locally in every realm possible.  It’s about digging deep for community stories, and using the process of your project to create new ones. Working locally, the process is just as important as the product.

Leaf donor sign
Imagine This

You wake up.  Today, you’re going to fulfill your dream of starting a children’s museum, complete with all new exhibits, from the ground up.  There’s only one problem: You have no idea where you are, you can’t get anywhere else, and you have to start right way.

Obviously, this scenario is highly unlikely.  But as a thought exercise, it could be very informative.  What would you do?

You work with what you have in your surroundings, you build on what you and the people around you know, and that’s what the local movement entails.  You want to create a space where people can gather, so you look at the land. What structures will withstand your climate? To create an aesthetically pleasing attraction, consider the earth and the soil. What grows here? You may find yourself trying to draw crowds from the area. Who are the people, what are their interests and what do they do?  What excites you most about your surroundings, the people, their history, their ideas, their rituals?

These are just some of the questions you’ll find yourself asking when you commence a project that is rooted in the local. The most important thing to remember is that your place has an identity, and so do the people in it.  Museums are unique from other attractions in that the aim is not only to stand apart and draw interest; they serve as a reflection of the people, communities and lands in which they reside. If your community has a manufacturing history, you have the opportunity to teach children about it and honor their forebears at the same time.  If your area is the epicenter of new and exciting developments in energy production or emerging technologies, take advantage of it and make your museum a testament to what’s yet to come.