American Association of Museums President/CEO Dr. Ford Bell Details How ‘Museums Matter’ at San Diego Cultural Arts Leadership Symposium
Dr. Bell pointed to data that demonstrates how museums can educate, inform and change attitudes and behavior. He spotlighted Balboa Park’s School in the Park Initiative as an important model for schools and museums across the country. School in the Park involves two inner city schools to “do school” in the Balboa Park museums, with a standards-based curriculum that integrates formal school learning with hands-on experiential education.
He also cited examples of museums responding to fill voids in America’s social fabric, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s on going program that works with Alzheimer’s patients; the Please Touch Children’s Museum in Philadelphia and North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, both of which work with young people in the juvenile justice system; as well as institutions that bring museums to students; museums that offer English as a Second Language courses; and institutions that have created charter schools and engaged in innovative partnerships that help provide critical experiential learning opportunities to many people.
“All of us here today are in the business of honoring and interpreting the past. And in that endeavor, our single greatest asset is authenticity. The genuineness of place or structure or artifact is what gives these things the power to amaze and even transform the visitor. They carry within them the spirit of the original inhabitant or artist or event. This is something intangible but still very palpable, and deeply, undeniably authentic. Virtualize such things and their spirit is gone, their magic along with it,” Bell said. “That is the business all of us are in: preserving the magic.”
Dr. Bell, who has more than 30 years of experience as a nonprofit executive, board chair, donor, trustee, educator and scientist, heads the American Association of Museums. The AAM has been bringing museums together since 1906, with the mission of developing standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Based in Washington, D.C., AAM currently represents more than 15,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, 3,000 institutions, and 300 corporate members.