Whether you are a motorcycle fan, a Civil War expert or a honeybee enthusiast, museums offer a place to explore ideas and objects that connect us with the rest of the world, said Elizabeth “Elee” Wood, associate professor of museum studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“Museums allow us to look back in time and place to see what we’ve been as a society, but more importantly help us know where we might be going,” Wood said. “I love seeing and thinking about the objects that people left behind and what it can mean in our lives today.”
During the 2013-14 school year, Wood visited 54 U.S. museums while on sabbatical. She offers a list of her Top 10 museums as a guide for summer, as well as year-round fun, entertainment and education.
- Lower Eastside Tenement Museum, N.Y.- A museum to help you think about the role of history in our contemporary culture. All tours are guided and promote dialogue and discussion about the life of the thousands of people who lived in the building over time.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, Calif.- Art with fish. This is one of the most breathtaking examples of how a museum can build an emotional connection between visitors and animals. Exhibits highlight the important aspects of animal life and conservation.
- Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, N.M.- The Collective Visions exhibit combines unique examples of folk art traditions from around the world in unusual ways. Wood said she loves the way the displays juxtapose different cultural depictions of life.
- Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, Wis.- This is where Wood got her start in the world of museums, working as a youth volunteer in the museum she visited as a child. This museum has some of the best dioramas for both human and natural history.
- Kew Gardens, London- Lovers of botanical gardens should put this one at the top of their lists. The museum’s attention to the physical beauty of the plant world is integrated into how staff construct their labels and help you think about why plants matter.
- Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.- Wood said she appreciates how the museum connects visitors with ideas and issues in science. She said she particularly likes the ScienceBuzz blog that features an object of the month.
- Cleveland Art Museum, Cleveland, Ohio- The museum’s new Gallery One is a stellar experience, offering new ways to experience artwork both physically and intellectually. For example, a visitor can use facial recognition software to match the expressions on different works of art and in another area, visitors cast their vote on the meaning of different works of art.
- National Music Museum, Vermillion, S.D.- Those who like musical instruments of any kind will probably find them here. This museum is crammed full of interesting, strange and unusual instruments from around the world.
- Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and the Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, Wash.- Wood said she admires museums that draw on community expertise and experience as their primary focus. Both Wing Luke and the Nordic Heritage Museum have extensive involvement from members of the community.
- Indianapolis- “I’m going to cheat a little and say that a trip to Indianapolis will bring you to some of the absolute best museums in the country,” Wood said, referring to the city’s highly respected and award-winning museums. For example, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s largest, is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer to see the Terracotta Warriors from China; and the Indianapolis Zoo’s new International Orangutan Center will blow you away with outstanding face-to-face interactions with apes. But the city also has so much more to offer: the Indiana History Center, Indiana State Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, to name a few.
About the Author:
Elizabeth “Elee” Wood is the director of the museum studies program and an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, with joint appointments in the museum studies program, IU School of Liberal Arts and IU School of Education. In addition, she serves as the public scholar of museums, families and learning in a joint appointment at the internationally renowned Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Her book, “The Objects of Experience: Transforming Visitor-Object Encounters in Museums,” co-authored by Kiersten F. Latham and published in 2013 by LeftCoast Press, discusses museum practices that foster the emotional and intellectual connections people have with museum holdings.
To reach Wood for interviews, contact Diane Brown by email or by phone at 317-274-2195