Often, museum don’t collaborate because of the risk involved. What do I mean by that? Museums carefully craft their image, maintain their reputation, and work to build connections in their communities. Partnering with a person or institution that may have an unknown impact on those relationships seems very very risky.
The result of this risk management is that museums appear not just “safe” but stodgy. In history museums, where I do the majority of my work, this problem is compounded by the inability to let go of historical authority or to risk a mis-interpretation of history that will outlive us all.
One museum took a fun risk last week that made me shout, “Yeah! Way to go!” at my computer when I read the news.
T.Rex Trying is a tumblr created by Hugh Murphy. The simple premise is that T.Rex, with his stubby arms and giant head has some difficulty participating in normal life. Each comic panel presents T.Rex diligently trying to accomplish things we take for granted.
Last week T.Rex was a rousing success at something! The Houston Museum of Natural Science announced T. Rex as the mascot of their new Paleontology Wing.
In their blog post they introduced the fossilized claws of a 65-million year old T. Rex from Montana that will be part of their new exhibits while simultaneously introducing the illustrated lizard king as completely understanding how limiting those claws could be.
A viral tumblr comic can seem pretty risky to some big museums. This collaboration probably made a good number people at the HMNS nervous. Maybe it still does– check out the claim in the blog that the new mascot is not the same T. Rex but that they like T. Rex Trying so much that they decided they needed a struggling T. Rex of their own and commissioned their own “HMNS frustrated dino.” The need to own it, to have control over it, and maybe even to make people think the idea was the museum’s rather than an adoption of an existing character, is probably necessary from a legal standpoint but to me it smacks of a big museum’s discomfort in risky collaborations. Luckily for us, the plunge was made.
As a loyal reader of T.Rex Trying, I am thrilled that this low-visibility web stream has caught the eye of the people that can make the most meaningful collaboration. No one will fit in better in the new Paleontology Wing than T. Rex Trying!