Q&A with Professor Heidi Lung about the Role of Museums and Community Sustainability

How do museums contribute to sustainability in communities? Successful museums offer more than an opportunity to view artifacts in a display case – they engage their community through storytelling and education, help define community identity, offer space for social gathering, and can even drive economic development.  Particularly in small rural Iowa communities, effective museums connect the community's heritage to its future, with an increasingly important focus on inclusivity that incorporates the stories of new residents and families into an ever-evolving community narrative.

University of Iowa Museum Studies lecturer, Heidi Lung, and her class, Museums in the Digital Age, have partnered with the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) to develop a recommendations for the Edgewood Historical Museum in Edgewood, Iowa, as part of the IISC’s 2016-17 partnership with the East Central Intergovernmental Association

Students are developing a communication plan that will be implemented on various social media outlets that includes how to communicate with parts of the community who are not tech savvy about the museum. Furthermore, they will recommend a collection management system based on needs of the museum.

"Museums are a foundational organization where sustainable communities can tell stories, help place us where we are now and where we're going in future," Lung said. "They reach out to communities to stay connected with groups of people and stay relevant."

Read more about Heidi Lung and her partnership with IISC below:

 

What made you interested in museum studies?

HL: Being an artist, I have a passion for objects and how they tell stories. I was once working with a group of second graders talking about quilts made by enslaved people and how the lives of the people of our past help us think about where we are now and where we will be in our future. There is no museum I don't love.

 

How did your work with museum studies transfer into your involvement with IISC?

HL: It was wonderful when IISC staff contacted me and wanted to connect students with a local community. My goal is to connect students with professionals in the field and help support learning, growth and the future of museums. I got a call from Travis (IISC Program Coordinator) about working with a museum and if we would be interested in doing that. It's the exact thing we want to do for the course. Being able to apply coursework and content to an existing museum is a win- win.

 

Why did you want to work with the Edgewood Museum?

HL: The Edgewood Museum in their infancy and they're working on building and framing out an old building to make it an exhibit space to tell the story of Edgewood residents and the community surrounding it. Our hope is to tell a historical story of the community and connect with people in that community. Getting young people engaged in the current stories is important.

 

How do the principles in IISC incorporate with what you teach in your museum studies courses?

HL: Sustainability is woven throughout all museum practices. It's almost a buzz word in the museum world about how to implement sustainable practices, how do we manage budgets that are stressed, how to run museums with a small staff, how to meet the goals of the mission within sustainable practices. Museums help make communities sustainable because they're a community center to have open dialogues. It's really important museums use their power in that sense because they are a place where people can come together and reach out to their communities.

 

What are some of your own favorite museums?

HL: I can’t say I have favorite, but when I was growing up the botanical gardens in St. Louis were very informative to me and allowed me to see something beautiful. I was taken aback by the space and how things were labeled discreetly. I would look at something and think it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and then right there in front of me, I could be educated about what I had seen. I dragged my family there all the time.