Here is a confession for you: I never pay the full suggested admission price when I visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The reason is because I figure that, like many huge and successful insitutions, the Met is doing pretty well for itself, even in these difficult times. Usually when I visit I give them $5, not the $25 they suggest. Let me hasten to add that I believe it is crucial to support all cultural institutions, large and small. I never freeload and I always give even the wealthier places something. When visiting smaller museums–and I visit several dozen a year–I always make certain to support very generously. At a small site I always give the full suggested amount. If the place is gratis, I still make sure to put a little something in the donation box. Every little bit helps, especially at smaller venues. An interesting article came through my in box the other day about the perilous state of house museums in Massachusetts. By extension the problems faced by such museums in the Bay State are applicable across the country.
For me at least the term “house museum” can mean two different things: a building that was once the actual domicile of a famous individual, or someone’s current place of residence partially turned into an exhibit space through an act of passion for something. My favorite was this one. It is shocking to see that Paul MacLeod has died.
The topic was already fresh in my mind because a few of us at Governors Island were talking about the sins and virtues of a few particular house museums in Gettysburg. Without naming names, let’s just say the quality of interp varies along Steinwehr Avenue and the Baltimore Pike. Also, just a few days after that conversation I was in Boston and visited a few of the historic sites in Lexington and Concord. The museums were a mish mash of Park Service and private sites working next to each other along the route the Redcoats covered in April 1775. One of the most interesting was The Old Manse, the Concord house that Emerson and Hawthorne called home at different points in time. The museum staff was quite informed and knowledgeable, everything one can ask for.
Thank god for the Met, the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and others, but I hate to think of a world in which our precious house museums disappear.