Museums have long sought to maintain relevance in the daily lives of their communities. Over the past several decades, museums have shifted, as a field, from a focus on collections to a focus on connecting with audiences. More recently, museums must confront political polarization and a decreasing sense of trust in nearly every public institution. As a result, few institutions are better positioned to serve the country than museums. In fact, polls show that museums rank among the most trusted institutions in the country, regardless of political belief. During tumultuous times, this trust means that museums have a unique and important responsibility to fulfill their civic mission.
A century ago, John Cotton Dana argued that the most important thing a museum can do is “produce a public benefit.” The Civic Mission of Museums argues that museums play an essential role in the cultivation of engaged and informed citizens. The book outlines a spectrum of civic learning that includes: civic knowledge, civic mindset, civic skillset, and civic action. It offers concrete examples of impactful civic programming, exhibits, and public engagement from a diverse set of museums. It ends with a practical toolkit, gleaned from across the country, for museum professionals to utilize.
Anthony Pennay is the Chief Learning Officer for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute (RRPFI), located onsite at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, CA. Pennay has served as the Chair of EdCom for the American Alliance of Museums, and the Chair of the Awards Committee for the National Council of the Social Studies.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Civic Mission of Museums
Chapter 2: Civic Knowledge in/and Museums
Chapter 3: Civic Mindset and the Self
Chapter 4: A Tale of Three Cities: Civic Skills
Chapter 5: Putting it all Together: Civic Action
Chapter 6: Toolkit for Democracy
About the Author
Pennay’s timely writing reminds us that we, as museum workers and leaders, have a duty to support a civil society through our educational efforts and the sharing of our museum spaces for the civic process. We can all benefit from this refresher course on civics which also serves to enable museums and their staffs to do better for society.
At a time when many are losing faith in our public institutions, The Civic Mission of Museums reminds us of the critical role museums play in building stronger communities and developing engaged citizens. Pennay’s uplifting book brings his personal passion to an issue that is relevant and urgent for all museum professionals.
Pennay has created a work that is both an enjoyable read and a prompt for reflection and examination of our practice as museum educators. His work goes beyond acknowledgment of museums as reliable holders of collective memory and challenges the field to also see them as places for discussion, discovery, and problem-solving. It is not enough to just remember; we should also look forward to our collective future. Pennay’s work inspires us to do just that.
Anthony Pennay makes a provocative, practical, and remarkably personal case for why civic learning is integral to the historical and contemporary theoretical framework that guides museum practice in the United States. The Civic Mission of Museums is destined to be essential reading for my graduate students and anyone who cares to build their civic knowledge, mindset, and skillset—and to do something with it for the good of the field.