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Why is Your Museum Small?

(psst…. don’t say lack of time or money)

by Carolyn Spears

Absolutely, without question, the Stone Fort Museum in Nacogdoches, Texas, is a small museum. Museum professionals (especially those of us working in small museums) spend a fair amount of time asking what makes a museum small.  What’s your budget? What’s your staff size? It’s not always easy to draw a line.  If we’ve learned anything about the definition of a small museum, it is that it’s relative.  Recently, I’ve become more interested in thinking about why.

Is the Stone Fort Museum a small museum because it is a reconstruction of a small historic house?  Yes, it is a small building, and yes, the structure has meaning for the town and region, but it is not, and never has, operated as a historic house museum. As a university-associated organization, it’s physically possible to relocate the museum’s teaching and collecting functions to a larger building, and thus abandon this small stone building.  As I said, the museum is a reconstruction – albeit an old one – so we could call the building quits and call it a campus folly. Why hasn’t that happened? It has never been proposed to my knowledge, and I have no interest in making that proposal.  Why?

I’m not trying to ask the obvious, even if I am. By asking why we’re a small museum, I’m focusing on strategic planning.  I don’t assume that because we are small that getting bigger is best direction. The question of size is neither an end in itself, nor a conviction of guilt.  But it may be a question that will help us build a future in which we grow even if we stay the same size.

Let us hear from you:

Why is your museum small? Are you a small museum that wants to be bigger? If so, how?

Will 'getting bigger' further the mission of your museum?  How?

If your museum grows in physical or fiscal size, what will you gain and what will you lose?


Nina Simon to speak at the SMAC-AAM Annual Luncheon

Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History @ McPherson Center, Nina Simon will present, “The Rise of the (Small) Community Museum” at the Small Museum Administrators Committee annual luncheon.  Author of, The Participatory Museum, and the blog, Museum 2.0, Nina has a history of visionary thinking about museums. Join us for a discussion of how small museums are positioned to lead powerful community engagement efforts.


Today is the Early Bird Registration deadline for the AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo, May 18-21, in Seattle, WA.  If you haven’t registered yet, today is the day.  Once done, direct your mouse to the purchase tickets link at Purchase Tickets and get your tickets for the SMAC Evening Reception on Sunday, May 18th, 6:30–8:30p.m. at the Pacific Science Center, and the SMAC Business Meeting Luncheon on Monday, May 19th, 12:15-1:30p.m.