Imagine a Museum

Opinion, August 19, 2016

The opportunity to consider repurposing the Texas Rangers stadium is a chance for Arlington to get past its small-town, Friday Night Lights excitement about sports and become cosmopolitan, to become part of the bigger world: to be worthy of an international airport 10 miles away; to be the geographic center of a region with 7 million people; to lead rather than to remain a set of city limits bisecting a freeway grid between Dallas and Fort Worth; to aim for the status of the nation's most elite cities; and to redefine what it means to be a World Class City.

While it was refreshing to see, reported in the Star-Telegram on August 18, 2016, that there are ideas other than to make another parking lot, the proposed solutions - condos and retail - were uninspiring, There was no aspiration to do anything for the city, no plan to fill the void between Dallas and Fort Worth with interests, and certainly nothing to attract visitors from outside the Metroplex or build a distinct reputation for the city.

To want a vibrant cultural arts district, for people from around the world to stay in local hotels, for businesses to thrive, for conventions and international events to come to Arlington, for the city to provide a high quality of life, and so on... takes a far greater understanding of the needs, interests and intellect of the population than simply relying on professional sports as an exclusive entertainment industry.

While baseball and football are a big attraction for 90 days of the year, the most successful cities benefit from cultural attractions (history, music, architecture, museums, arts, education) throughout the year.

Consider these examples:

- A Super Bowl is about the same economic benefit for the host city and surrounding area as Mardi Gras is for Greater New Orleans, but New Orleans has Mardi Gras every year, and the legacy it promotes in music, arts, history, etc. carries over as a cultural attraction throughout the year.

- The Smithsonian has more annual visitors than there are ticket buyers for an entire NFL season, but Washington DC benefits from the Smithsonian for over 360 days per year.

- New York City's American Museum of Natural History (like many other prominent museums around the world) has more annual visitors than the total of all three major sports teams in most American cities.

- Cultural tourism makes San Antonio (history, culture) and Austin (music, film) the most successful tourism destinations in Texas.

- Innovation in parks and cultural resources make New York City (from Central Park to the High Line and the future Pier 55) and Chicago (Millennium Park, Museum Campus, Navy Pier, and others) more visited than Texas cities.

- Washington DC commands interpretation of the nation's and the world's legacies through its museums and institutions, like the Smithsonian and National Geographic Society, rivaling even New York City for visitors.

- Of course, there is no better example of benefit to the public than our nation's preservation of natural and cultural resources in the National Parks (appropriately described as "America's Best Idea").

- New Mexico is substantially smaller in population than DFW, yet it draws vastly more cultural tourism dollars.

- While historic cities on the East Coast, Europe and Asia have the greatest traditional museums, newer cities like Tulsa, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, Mazatlan, and even Bentonville, Arkansas, are pioneering the most exciting modern cultural museums in the world, reaping tremendous economic benefits, and gaining even greater intangible rewards in education and quality of life.

The common characteristic in these institutions and legacies is that they were founded by people with vision, who acted when it was time to make decisions to benefit their communities in the long view of the future.

Industries, major conventions and international events expect to locate where there are exceptional natural and/or cultural resources; hotel rooms, shopping and entertainment is not enough to win the best of them. There must be cultural interests and activities throughout the year to support transportation, hospitality and a wide variety of visitor services.

The most successful cultural resources are often museums. And Culture is the most interesting subject matter for many museums, though not always declared. If the Smithsonian Institution was not known as "The Smithsonian", it would likely be named the National Museum of Culture.

There is no better possible cultural resource or man-made cultural asset today than a great museum with Culture as its subject, where Culture is explored through interpretive exhibits, live demonstrations (presentations, festivals and concerts), and interactive technology.

The opportunity to utilize Culture - our ways of life - still exists in the United States as an innovative museum theme. It includes unlimited interests: science, arts, humanities, history, environment, social sciences (like anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, geography, education, psychology), food traditions, agriculture, industries and occupations, entertainment (pastimes and social life), languages, religions, health, media and communications, technology, and much more. It is a museum theme for adults and children.

Culture is the most interesting subject matter to most of us because it is about all of us. It includes the development of civilizations, diverse ways of life, the homogenizing effects of media and technology, the migration of people, family heritage, the big mysteries, like "how we got here"... It ranges from aesthetically pleasing and enlightening to controversial and engaging. Culture combines the past (history, heritage, genealogy) with the present (quality of life, health, the ways we live in modern times) and future studies. It is the basis of one of our most important needs today - cross-cultural experience and cultural competency.

Interpretation and studies of Culture include past developments that changed our ways of life (such as photography - invented 177 years ago today - and television, cars, concrete, steam engines, telephones, microwave ovens, and more), as well as the things that impact our lives today (floods and drought, satellite communications, DNA, social media, biometry, biometric identification, space-age materials, and more), and those things that may affect our ways of life in the future (self-driving cars, drones, artificial intelligence, robots in the workforce, etc.).

Sports entertainment is a part of most of our ways of life, and it is exciting to the local population for a team to win something important in the chronicle of the year, like the Super Bowl or World Series. But the possible stadium vacancy provides Arlington with the opportunity to do something truly great, with long-lasting benefits for the greater DFW region, and to create a legacy for the best interests of the world.

The imminent vacancy in the Texas Rangers stadium provides a perfect opportunity to create an amazing international museum and cultural destination, with distinctive restaurants, an amphitheater (a fully utilized festival grounds, really), theaters and demonstration labs, and an innovative regional education center.

Many of these ideas and possibilities are explored on the Imagine a Museum website:

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Imagine a Museum is hosted by the Digital Story Resource Center

Ruthie Foster is an important part of our local culture
Ruthie Foster is an important representative of our local arts and cultural traditions.

Alash provides an important opportunity to experience world cultures
Tuva's Alash Ensemble represents significant aspects of world cultures and traditions.

Santa Fe offers abundant cultural resources
A city with abundant cultural resources, Santa Fe's interesting history and architecture are preserved and complimented with excellent museums and galleries to complete visitors' experiences.

Cultural understanding is shaped by creativity and expression
Culture is understood and defined in different ways by most people, but it is constantly being shaped by creativity and expression.

Diverse cultures hold keys to the past and reveal our modern stories
The diverse peoples who have settled in Texas bring with them the traditions of the old world with the stories of modern times.

Texas is a confluence of rich music traditions
Texas was home to many diverse music traditions that now form an interesting confluence of cultures and innovative styles in our cities.


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