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Museum exhibit sponsorships need to be credible

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 00:10

A growing problem during tight economic times is the reduction or lack of funding provided for public institutions such as museums. A recent visit to MOSI showed just how desperate the cash-starved museum really is.

One permanent display, “The Amazing You,” explores the body from cells to organs, birth to death. Fetus specimens float in clear cylinders, with developmental stages outlined for each week in utero. One interactive display takes a photo of the museum-goer and shows an age-progression of what one will look like based on lifestyle attributes such as smoking or obesity. A “simulation” of a brain firing synapses was constructed as a half circle fitted with flashing lights dancing off disco ball mirrors.

This exhibit is educational, interactive and informative, yet the nuts and bolts behind the display are questionable.

Though the museum complies with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) ethics guidelines for lender involvement to publicly disclose “the source of funding where the lender is also a funder of the exhibition,” this display presents a conflict of interest.

Two large corporations, health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield and life insurance firm MetLife, foot the bill for this health- and body-related display. As the AAM further states in its code of ethics “Loyalty to the mission of the museum and to the public it serves is the essence of museum work.”

The companies sponsoring the exhibit make money based on the wellbeing and life span of others, encouraging people to choose healthy lifestyles so the company does not have to pay for their costs, so it does not make ethical sense why a health-related exhibit is credibly sponsored by them.

Museums accredited by the AAM adhere to its ethics code, which also states museums “should retain full decision-making authority over the content and presentation of the exhibition.”

MOSI seems to adhere to this code with its focus on hands-on learning and education, but the sponsors of this exhibit contradict the mission of the museum itself, as it is ultimately the museum’s responsibility to decide the credibility of its sponsors and the neutrality of its exhibits.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History came under scrutiny in 2010 for a similar issue, when it used $15 billion from David Koch, who funds campaigns against climate change, to fund its exhibit on how humans affect climate change, according to Think Progress.

MOSI’s upkeep is dependent on interesting displays that attract more donors and visitors. Its unkempt grounds and limited exhibits could use a boost in revenue. But capitalism in the form of privatization is slowly choking out unbiased knowledge and scientific learning, replacing it with exaggerations and misinformation.

The essential public service of museums, like our school system, should not be left to the whims of corporate CEOs. It is a blatant conflict of interest for these companies to sponsor a health-related exhibit for the general public.  

Danielle Leppo is a senior majoring in English.
 

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