Stories from the Unknown/Battling Against the Sounds of Curiosity

For all we know, there is still so much information that we do not know.

From the deepest depths of the oceans to the missing links of evolution, the stories of the unknown are interesting, curiosity driven topics that fascinate the masses.

NMNH Mini Aquarium.jpg

The National Museum of Natural History explores both of these topics by mixing incredible facts, anomalous finds, and educated leaps to explore these massive concepts.  Almost to the point of inundation with knowledge, the facts, theories, and hypotheses are in constant competition with the sensory overload of not only every sense that accompanies upwards of 50,000 visitors daily, but also of the colors, lights, content, and mixed modes of media utilized to share the stories of natural history.

As Senior Scientist and Curator Hans Sues shared at the start of our tour, and mentioned many times throughout, there are a lot of objects and stories that spill into the narrative of natural history.  Although, he mentioned the shift away from the Wunderkammer, there is still an innate atmosphere of a myriad of important objects on display, and in every way deserving of being displayed, which the National Museum of Natural History exudes, and maybe should not ever shy away from simply due to the sheer volume of topics and objects the museum covers.

Even if today was a battle of the senses, it gives way to the inherent curiosity of humankind museums strive to satiate, and at the National Museum of Natural History, there are enough curiosities to keep a visitor satisfied for a lifetime.

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Staff 1st.

Buy in matters. A genuine concern matters. Change matters.

The Smithsonian has made leaps and bounds in conservation, exhibitions, and setting the standards many museums aspire to, but even for the majority that is not enough, and rightfully so.

A public space is meant for the public. Not a cross-section, not a specific individual, but the public.

This is not achievable, however, without acknowledging accessibility of every kind.

From preparing visitors with cognitive disabilities to understand what experiences take place in your space, to making sure history lovers are accepted among art lovers, to facilitating ease of movement for visitors with physical disabilities, a public space should provide for and welcome everyone.

Missions, funding, and boards among other elements create barriers to these possibilities. So how can we break down those barriers, making accessibility more than just budget a line that is first to be redistributed? The process starts with the staff.

Staff, which includes paid, unpaid, intern, volunteer, and anyone who provides some sort of function to the museums. They care for the collection. They choose the objects. They make sure the doors are open for the public. Each staff members ensures the visitor enjoys the experience they deserve, which is fundamentally a visitor curated by the staff.

Now, imagine if that entire staff knew how to encourage and facilitate an experience for someone on the autism spectrum, someone that was blind, that spoke another language? And, in addition, genuinely believed each visitor deserved an encompassing and encouraging museum experience?

Creating a completely accessible place and experience starts with understanding, it starts with developing an institutional body language that says we want everyone to enjoy themselves, understand something new, and spark an interest that makes every visitor feel like they can and should revisit.