Art museums are currently going through a sea change, and that sea change is about the difference between access and curating. Now, obviously, as in most either/or binaries, the answer is actually both/and, but binaries help us get clarity in our thinking.
Think of the old model of art museums: they served a curatorial function: we mount a show on Post-Impressionism. We hang a bunch of Post-Impressionist paintings. We put up a sign saying, “Post-Impressionism was an artistic movement in Europe between the years blah, blah, blah and blah, blah, blah. “The chief practitioners of Post-Impressionism were Blah Blah and Blah Blah Blah.
But you know what? I can go to Wikipedia and learn all that. I don’t have to get out of my pajamas. I don’t have to pay the price of admission. I don’t have to pay the price of parking or buy lunch. I don’t go.
Art museums that follow this model are seeing falling attendance. And some day they will close their doors. It’s not a question of good or bad. It’s just the way things are.
But what if the museum opens a show featuring the color green?
It’s eclectic. It pulls all sorts of works of art from all sorts of cultures and periods. It says, “Hey, come look at all the green!” In that case, I have access to a lot of really cool examples of green. I experience green. It’s up to me what to do with the experience . . .
Places of worship are just like that. I can go to the Roman Catholic museum. The Presbyterian museum. On and on. When I get there, the curator, the curate, the priest, the preacher, is going to stand up there and say, “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins . . . blah, blah, blah.”
The age of religious curation is as dead as the age of art curation or classical music curation or any other big idea curation. The Presbyterians have lost twenty-seven percent of their members in the last eight years; the United Church of Christ has lost twenty-five percent of their members in the same time period.
The list goes on.
What if places of worship became places of access? Places people sought out to talk to and hear from equals, not curators; equals saying “hey, look at this. Maybe we can do something with this.”
Religions and philosophies have always been eclectic jumble sales—a little of this from this neighbor; a little of that. We do well to admit this and learn to say that eclecticism is hunky-dory. It’s swell. It’s copesetic. It’s FUBAR. The kids are alright.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but my hunch is that a switch from curation to access is not an ought-to but a got-to.
And I think it’s the honest and responsible thing to do.