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The turn of the 21st century has seen an unprecedented rush in history by professionals and students to museums which had for a long time been viewed as institutions that were facing extinction. More people are increasingly visiting museums than ever before. New museums are constructed in cities even as older ones undergo radical changes, both in structure and collection. Studies have been directed towards museums and Street Art in an attempt to document the roles that they play in knowledge acquisition in cities.
A closer look at the intellectual and cultural aesthetics of museums and Street Art demonstrates that these two institutions are no longer seen as simply collections of old objects and drawings with inactive value. Different kinds of museums ranging from art to science exist and play a crucial role in knowledge preservation and acquisition as well as in cultural and political sobriety of any society. This paper discusses the role and functionality of museums in cities. It also compares and contracts the roles of museums and Street Art in preserving and disseminating information.
Roles and Functionality of Museums in Cities
According to Conn (24), a museum is only viable if it is opened to visitors. Conn (24) observes that the aesthetic value of museums can only be realized if all functions of the museum impact people who visit them. Museums have both educational and aesthetic roles to play. He cites science specimens, art works, documents with historical values, and artifacts found in museums as some of the objects that besides providing educational value to students and researchers in their construction of knowledge provide entertainment. Through visiting museums, students learn skills in observation, research, capture and analysis, and information presentation (Wetterlund & Sayre 67)
Wetterlund & Sayre (67) observe that the role of museums in any society is very crucial. They mention that museums are judged with the responsibility of carrying out programs for exhibiting to visitors. Museums also develop materials and resources, participate in the designing and planning, and ensure the accessibility of materials. Furthermore, they carry out research on the needs of their clients and develop programs that meet these needs. Wetterlund & Sayre (67) also observe that museums collect the ordinary informational materials captured in all formats. These materials may have academic underpinning or simply bring out additional benefit by enabling museums to prove their relevance to people who were previously uninterested in their activities. Moreover, curators form links with clients through modern collections which appeal to these audience.
Kavanagh (41) indicates that most museums located in cities reflect the pride and cultural richness of that city. Through these museums, city’s current and future diversity and possibilities are evaluated. Kavanagh observes that museums “are gateways to understanding the city” (42). Furthermore, city museums are recognized as having tremendous potential in preserving history and engage people in using the past to tackle the present and future challenges. However, Kavanagh states that the use of museums depends on individual need and whether they meet the needs of users depends on their agendas. Evidently, museums stimulate the imagination of city dwellers, initiate discussion, and increase the ability to seek answers to contemporary challenges.
Similarly, Kavanagh (47) notes that since cities have become cosmopolitan residential areas, museums play the crucial role of promoting unity and cohesion among different people dwelling in cities. He notes that museums use their resources to promote understanding and appreciation of different groups and cultures that exist in cities. Museums depict the collective heritage of people living in a city besides fostering the feeling of commonality of uniting factors of a nation. For instance, museums in Indonesia have been used to reconcile interests in cities to enhance collective good of the nation.
In his contribution, Kemp (78) notes the exhibiting role of city museums. Exhibitions provide forums for interaction using light and sound effects. He adds that museums use technology in order to cause excitement in subjects that may have been forgotten but are of public interest. For instance, the blockbuster exhibition like Lord of the Rings at London Museum of Science was able to ignite public interest in England. In this respect, museums play a role by providing the city with information on specific subjects, especially when a relatively low interest is assumed among the people. In return, city museums play the dual roles of entertaining as well as informing.
Jones & McIntyre (65) identify promotion as a function of museums. Through promotions, they are able to market their services and collections. Promotion ensures that museums appeal to a larger population besides discovering their actual audience and their needs. Through promotion, museums are able to understand what motivates audience and, therefore, they are able to establish sustainable contacts. Jones and McIntyre (65) suggest the use of local media and modern technology to accomplish this function.
Museums also provide a learning environment, and this environment has shifted from being passive to active over time (Jones & McIntyre 69). Through this function, museums provide new languages, techniques, and attitudes to audience by placing education and learning at the central stage. Learning function encompasses research, collection, and documentation.
Street Art and Museums Compared Functionally
According to Kemp (92), Street Art is a form of popular public art that is not confined into galleries nor easily collected. It is a tool of communication through presenting dissenting views and express political concerns. Kemp (92) states that unlike many forms of art, street art is mostly seen as a form of vandalism as many artists who paint do so without permission. Furthermore, many artists who practice street art do not consider themselves as street artists who consider city walls as their working environment.
Whereas museums are housed in particular building that are well known, street art is migratory in nature, which makes its audience wide. Notably, street art has embraced technological tools more than museums and they can be found on the Internet, thus, it reaches a wider audience. Kemp (92) states that street art uses current imagery and styles and deals with more current issues than museums. Unlike museums, street art collects and circulate materials that are easily recognizable across all cultures. Street art acts as a major connecting factor for different disciplinary and institutional jurisdictions that rarely interact with the public.
Camenson (46) considers street art as a form of art that belongs to a contemporary world even though it has been around since the advent of artistry. It appeals to youthful and young generation much more than museums do. Artists in street art operate through many media and arenas. Camenson (47) says that street art is appealable with the youth because of its historical consideration as being a form of rebellion which defies cultures from within. Whereas museums may be dedicated to a certain theme or subject, street art exposes people of all social classes and all political opinions. This enables for a clear viewpoint to be expressed in a mainstream way.
To sum up, this paper has established that both museums and street art have unique roles to play in shaping the development of cities. This role encompasses political and cultural development of cities that ate largely cosmopolitan. The symbolic power of museums and street art rests in their ability to shape opinion on issues and provide historical information in an educative and entertaining manner. However, there is a need for museums to change an old perception that they are simply the collections of old religious material. As it has been established, street art plays a unique role because it appeals to the youth besides its use of technology in passing its messages.