The Museums DC Needs (And Deserves)

Let’s face it, DC is a museum town. Yes, the federal government pumps more money into the economy, but those busloads of Midwesterners downtown haven’t come here from Wichita to check out the Department of the Interior building. When it comes to tourism dollars, the museums are the cash cow – and not just for the city. The museum business model is unique in that it’s one of the few businesses that doesn’t rely on repeat customers.  All you need is a mildly intriguing hook to get first-timers in the door. (Which is why something as – let’s be honest – underwhelming as the Spy Museum continues to pack them in.) So in the wake of the Crime Museum’s announcement that they’re closing, let’s consider what museums we’d like to see replace it.


Hasn’t everyone gone onto and then looked up and realized that five hours have passed somehow?  That happens to me at least once a week.  Even though the internet is relatively new, it’s developed so fast that artifacts from just ten years ago seem downright antiquated.  And it’s so integral to our day-to-day that it’s already a major influence in everything from music to fashion.  A pair of artists even put on an exhibition recently of old Geocities websites.  Like it or not, this is the future.  But really, why wouldn’t you like it?  Just imagine your favorite gifs looping infinitely in huge digital frames, the first YouTube upload playing on monitors, the original ENIAC computer (it weighed tons and had like 10 megabytes of memory, which is almost as bad as my flip phone), a meme wing.  The Apple wing alone would bring in millions.  Sure, this idea might be a little hip for DC, but aren’t they always talking about appealing to millennials?  Well, what do millennials like more than the internet?

989211200006-20010709-05478-jpgTHE SCANDAL/CORRUPTION MUSEUM

The only time people really follow politics is when there’s a scandal anyway. Imagine how fascinating the exhibits would be – the stained Monica Lewinsky dress alone would draw millions. The Hillary email server, the Watergate plumbers’ burglary kits, Teapot Dome documents. You could even have the copy of “My Pet Goat” that Dubya was reading when that guy whispered in his ear on the morning of 9/11 and he pretended to be surprised. There’s no shortage of political scandal (or pseudo-scandal) material to choose from. They’d probably have to have security guards stationed all over the place because so many shouting matches and fistfights would break out.


Masterpieces are all well and good (yawn), but let’s be honest, excellence is alienating.  It’s much easier to identify with mediocrity.  Isn’t that principle the basis for our entire popular culture now, from reality TV to Us Weekly?  So why not apply that rule to a museum?  Would you rather look at a bunch of Old Masters, or an intensely-curated collection of “sad clown” paintings?  There’s really no comparison.  Forget the somber, reverential hush of the National Portrait Gallery, wouldn’t you rather drink wine out of plastic cups amid gales of hysterical laughter as you tour the “Celebrity Fan Art” wing?  (The above is my favorite piece of Brad Pitt fan art.)  You could have a “dogs playing poker” wing, an Eighties/Nineties hotel room painting wing, a bad nudes wing.  I have this incredible painting I found at a thrift store, of this kneeling naked woman.  The artist spent a lot of time doing her big permed hair first, then sort of sketched in her face, but then as he was outlining her body, realized he’d made the head at least 50% too big, so she’s normal-sized from the waist up, but her legs are really tiny and bent unnaturally so they fit into the frame.  It’s the most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen.  A legitimately wealthy person has tried to buy it from me multiple times, but I couldn’t let it go.  I might donate it to be the centerpiece of the bad art museum though.


Come on, who wouldn’t go to this?  They have them in at least half a dozen other cities, and they’re very successful.  Let’s be honest, the real reason the Crime Museum failed is that our fascination with crime is just morbid displaced sex.  You want proof, just watch how my parents get all flushed and panting as they watch “Dateline: NBC.”  People don’t want crime;  they want sex.  So give it to them.  Also, probably the most irritating thing about most museums are how G-rated they are, how so many parents there are trying to force their kids to appreciate the Kitty Hawk or something when the kid would clearly prefer to be in their pillow fort playing Pokemon.  This would be one for the adults only.  Have you seen vintage pornography?  It’s hypnotic.  You can’t look away.  The bodies, the body hair, the facial expressions. You could show supercuts of pornos (curated by decade) in screening rooms, have framed centerfolds from Playboy and Playgirl.  You could even have these on display.  Don’t tell me this wouldn’t instantly become the most popular first date destination in the city.

One response to “The Museums DC Needs (And Deserves)

  1. While I applaud the creative impulse inherent in thinking up new museum models for the city, it would be great to see better research done before presenting such ill-informed information about Washington’s museums as fact. They are hardly, as the author states it, “the city’s cash cow”. Anyone in the museum field can tell you that museums work extremely hard, often with far fewer staff and lower operating budgets than they need, to stay afloat, let along prosper. The article makes numerous blanket statements without taking into account the wide variety of institutions, from the free-admission, federally funded Smithsonian family, to independent museums ranging from the well-known object-based format of the Spy Museum to smaller house museums scattered throughout the city. Contrary to the author’s statement, museums very much DO rely on repeat visitors, and in fact, much staff time and effort is spent on cultivating these repeat guests. As a staff member at a smaller non-profit museum in the District, I can tell you that engaged visitors who come back, come often, and get involved as members are what allow us to survive. If you want to keep museums in Washington, visit them. Volunteer, Become a member, Tell your friends about them. Don’t assume that they are raking in the cash and you don’t need to worry about them. While the merits of the Crime Museum’s exhibits and management plan may have contributed to its closure, it is a wake-up call and reminder to the city that these institutions are often existing in precarious balance between success and failure. Let the Corcoran and other cautionary tales remind us that to keep culture alive and well in our city, and to foster the kinds of cultural institutions that make us WANT to return again and again, we all have to take an active part in supporting the places we love.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s