I read an article in the Washington Post last Friday that resonated with some nascent thoughts on the role of museums shaped by audiences born between 1980 and 2000.
The story, by Jura Konclus, looks at the “seismic shift of stuff” underway as Baby Boomers clean out empty nests and downsize into retirement only to find—surprise!—their Millennial offspring don’t want the dinner table, sectional sofa, and 10 boxes of family archives. As she observes, “20- and 30-somethings don’t appear to be defined by their possessions, other than their latest-generation cellphones.”
This is in part a result of the urban renaissance: dense, walkable communities mean smaller living spaces and more reliance on shared space and shared services. In addition, as the WashPo article points out, Millennials store their memories on flashdrives and in the cloud, not in photo albums.
So here’s my musing for the day: do Millennials attach less value to stuff in general (whether their own possession or in a museum), or do they, even more than their parents, see museums as display cases for things they love? The prevalence of the one attitude or the other will have major implications for museums. I wrote in TrendsWatch 2014 “museums would seem to be in a great position to provide people with the pleasures of vicarious ownership…[in the future] even more people may look to museums as repositories for the stuff they value but don’t want to take care of.” On the other hand, if Millennials value experiences above possessions (another point Konclus touches on), will that shape the focus of museums, away from contemplation of the collections and towards participatory environments?