Between 1990 and 2000, museums in the United States have seen increased public support and interest, according to a survey by the Association of the Art Museum Directors. This is a factor that has led to increased demand for qualified museum specialists, said History of Art Prof. Ray Silverman, who is heading a new museums studies program at the University.
On campus, the University Museum of Art has seen a 10 to 20 percent increase in visitor numbers over four years and is planning to double its floor space. Also reflecting a general trend, the museum is becoming more involved with the community and education, said Museum Curator for Education Ruth Slaven.
“Traditionally, institutions deal with collecting, conserving, studying and exhibiting objects. Over the last 10 to 15 years, museums have taken on other roles that are more public orientated and are much more vital to their communities,” said Silverman, explaining the shifting role of museums.
Reflecting these developments in the growth and mission of museums, several universities now offer a form of museum studies program. The Rackham School of Graduate Studies is initiating its own 18-credit graduate certificate program in museum studies this fall and will only accept about 12 to 15 students.
According to Silverman’s mission statement, “the UMMSP is explicitly cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural in orientation and prepares students for career settings including museums, arboreta, zoos, botanical gardens, heritage sites, archives and the entertainment industry.”
Silverman said the University’s program is unique because it combines both theory – the study of the museum as a cultural institution – as well as practice, where skill sets are developed for working in museums.
Slaven said that programs, particularly those that combine both theory and practice, are becoming very important. “It is no longer enough to know the nuts and bolts. The ability to think critically and broadly is increasingly important,” she added.
Will this new program attract the 12 to 15 available slots? “Certainly. I’m sure they will have that number of students,” said Stacy Davidson, a first- year graduate student in Near Eastern studies and Egyptology. She said she realizes that job opportunities in her field are limited and that a museum career is an attractive route.
Despina Margomenou, an archaeologist and graduate student in the department of classical studies and Museum of Anthropology, is also applying to the program. “It was needed. I think because there is a trend for archaeology and anthropology for not only research, but also the public domain, it is becoming increasingly significant,” she said.