Is there such a thing of a museum who isn’t participatory these days? Well, if we use Levi Fox’s Trump museum as an example, then no, there isn’t!
Let us first breakdown Nina Simon’s idea of the participatory museum. She writes that the goal of participatory techniques used by museums “is both to meet visitor’s expectations for active engagement and to do so in a way that furthers the mission and core values of the institution.” Mr. Fox’s engagement with the community meets this two-fold. First, his website offers community members an opportunity to tell their “Trump Story” (whatever that story may be). Second, he accepts artifacts pertaining to the various business’s Trump ran in Atlantic City. Fox’s museum’s mission is: “The Project Is A Bi-Partisan Look At The Legacy Of The Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Castle, Trump Marina, and Trump World’s Fair.” By collecting the stories and artifacts, the Trump Museum participates in the participatory field of museum work.
Simon also states, “Rather than delivering the same content to everyone, a participatory institution collects and shares diverse, personalized, and changing content coproduced with visitors.” Here the Trump Museum has room to expand. Perhaps, an online collection which visitors who have contributions can post their artifacts or stories relating to Atlantic City Trump endeavors. This could tie into Simon’s final statement on participation: “It invites visitors to respond and add information about cultural artifacts, scientific evidence, and historical records on display.”
The biggest issue that will arise from the Trump Museum’s interactions with the community is that it is a highly politicized individual to be associating with. Fox made a comment on how “names mean something,” and here, it could not be anymore true. The name “The Atlantic City Trump Museum” conjures certain images to mind. The viewer immediately knows that this is a highly localized thing. The museum also states it has to do with Trump, but does not belie any more information. This particular museum will need to hone its name down to a precise reflection to be successful.
Simon states that participatory techniques can eliminate the issue of: “the authoritative voice of the institution doesn’t include my view or give me context for understanding what’s presented.” Here, the museum will gave the most work cut out for it. Fox discussed the use of media sources to get the news out there about the museum. He also discussed how the comment sections of these media sources where incredibly intriguing.
In this day and age, anonymity allows anyone to post anything without much regret. One commenter on an article discussing the museum wrote: “Include a large hall with lifelike statues of everyone he’s stiffed over the years, and the women he’s groped.” Another said, “But if Atlantic City investors want to build one depicting his life up until now, there is nothing with putting that sort of information out there as long as it is done in a nonpartisan manner. Educating the people about Trump’s life is more important for fixing our society than scoring some immediate political points.” Most public responses seem to be, however, aggressively anti-Trump. Posts on Facebook in response to the articles discussing the museum as incredibly against the idea of a museum honoring the current President of the United States.
It’s hard to say how to go ahead with the museum. The participatory model could help those who felt victimized by Trump casino ventures to be heard, but it could also help those who had pleasant experiences at the casinos be heard. For now, it seems the best method would be to stress the museum’s bipartisan nature to usher a feeling of inclusiveness.