We are making necessary changes to our permanent galleries. Below, you will find an outline of our plans along with some background information.
The American Museum & Gardens was founded to bring the best of American culture and design to UK-based audiences and to dispel stereotypes of American culture. We want to continue to inspire a new generation of visitors. We have plans to make updates throughout the Museum to meet expectations of the 21st-century visitor and to enable us to continue to play an important role within the community. As part of these goals, we will address issues around the current narrative, which is from a white Eurocentric viewpoint. We want and feel it is crucial that we provide a broader narrative that is more inclusive with diverse voices and perspectives.
Many of the spaces in the Museum have not changed much since 1961, when we opened to the public. The exceptions are our American Heritage Galleries on the lower level of the Museum, which we opened to the public in 2007, and our Folk Art Gallery, which was refurbished in 2011. The remaining spaces of the Museum include our period rooms, which are a snapshot in time of a specific location and period of American History starting in 1690 and going through to 1860. We have begun to deliver changes to all of the permanent galleries and, with further funding, we will make more significant changes longer term.
For the future, the ambition is to keep the majority of the period rooms, as these are the heart of the Museum; however, we will be updating much of the content within the displays and reviewing the visitor journey in order to meet the needs of a wider audience with different learning styles.
We have several working groups and projects to support this work:
- Internal – led by the Collections & Public Engagement Director, Chief Curator and Exhibitions and Interpretation Officer, working with colleagues across the organisation to consider and understand a range of needs, including those of our current and potential audiences, through focus groups and research
- Diversity and Inclusion Task Force – a group of Museum staff and volunteers who are championing change across the organisation
- Advisory group – made up of external stakeholders including academic specialists in American culture, history and politics, both present day and historic; local members of the community with expertise in community engagement and experiences that differ from those in-house; and museum professionals who specialise in decolonisation
We will be making changes in three phases:
- Near-term: we have updated some of the graphics and displays throughout the American Heritage Galleries, with further changes coming throughout 2023.
- Mid-term: new graphics in the period rooms with a more modern look and feel, along with information accessible on an app to provide more context to the period rooms, such as what was happening during the time period of the room, how these events shaped what is on display in the period room and the stories of the people who lived in them.
- Long-term: a substantial overhaul of the museum to create zoning with a different theme for each level, covering broad topics such as American Peoples, American Cultures and American Design, where visitors can pick and choose what they would like to see and in what order. A better orientation throughout the house that gives visitors a sense of what to expect, including an introductory space about the purpose of the museum, why and how it was founded. Better conveyance of the relationship between the house and gardens, by opening up some of the rooms to show views of the gardens and to talk about their design and what makes them American. The addition of breakout spaces with opportunities for dialogues, discussion and reflection. The addition of more interactivity, with opportunities to get closer to objects to understand how they were made and designed, to explore maps, and the addition of more images and stories of individuals, soundscapes and audio to bring the rooms alive.
We are grateful for support from the Association of Independent Museums, who provided funding towards our permanent gallery changes as part of their AIM Hallmarks Grants scheme Tackling Inequality.
We need additional support to make these changes and are grateful for any donation. See our donation page for more information.
For questions on any of the changes, or to find out about other ways you can support, please contact [email protected].