Two Wishes Lists for the Museums of Rochester, Minnesota

This is the third of several posts with suggestions for the museums of the cities I have called home.  I first posted these in the summer of 2010; this series of posts features some updated information and additional suggestions.  

Rochester,  Minnesota is a small town located 40 miles (about 65 kilometers) west of the Mississippi River, and about 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities.

It’s also the place where I began my adult life (which is why what happens there means a lot to me).

This post (a revision to an earlier post) first explores the context of museums in Rochester, Minnesota, then offers specific suggestions.

The Context of Museums in Rochester

I moved to Rochester, Minnesota because I figured that if Minnesota was good for the fictional Rhoda Morgenstern on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, it would be good for a real overweight East Coast Jew.

And it was.

As someone said, Rochester is a perfect place for a young adult who has no idea where they’re going in life.  It provides a space to figure it out.

And do try things about.  What made life in Rochester special was that one could not live it as a spectator sport.  If you cared about politics, then the Mayor would appoint you to a local commission.  If you liked sports, you could enjoy them—but had to participate.  (Even if you weren’t a sporty person, you still had to participate, as I did.)  And if you cared about the arts, you could enjoy them as long as you contributed.

During my time in Rochester, my primary cultural focus was local theater, which is surprisingly active.  The museum scene is a bit lighter; most people drive to Minneapolis and St. Paul to take advantage of their excellent museums.

Two Suggestions for the Museums of Rochester, Minnesota

But why?  People in southern Minnesota have a culture and heritage that’s worthy of collecting and studying.  So I propose two museums that could strengthen the cultural life in this small community.

1.   Establish a Museum of Wildlife Art.  Although the Rochester Art Center focuses on symbolic, modern art, a more typical indigenous form of art is the more representational wildlife art.  Indeed, many of the winners of Federal and state duck stamp print competitions—highly competitive annual events among the best artists in the discipline—come from the Southern Minnesota region of which Rochester is the largest city.  Many galleries in the region specialize in wildlife art, and a museum that collects, studies, and provides education related to it would be representative of the local art.

One set of galleries could present winners of various wildlife stamp competitions, another could present original paintings, a third could present applied arts (furniture, jewelry, and related arts) inspired by wildlife arts, and a fourth gallery could present changing exhibits on special topics in wildlife art.

2.   Establish CMA—a museum of the regional economy in southern Minnesota. Although some three major industries of Southern Minnesota.

A philosophy guiding this museum might be a systems approach—showing both might think it refers to the Country Music Association, it would really be a museum about the work of computers, medicine, and agriculture—systems at work in individual industries as well as how a core organization provides the basis for an economic “hub.”

Consider the medical part of the museum, which could be boosted with contributions from the collection of the Mayo Museum (which tells the story of the work of the Mayo Clinic).  In this museum, the exhibition would explore (a) how the Mayo Clinic forms a hub of activity that contributes to health, and (b) the contributions of Southern Minnesotans to the human health.

A second segment of the museum would focus on the hub of computer-related activity centered on IBM.  More than merely detailing the history of IBM in Rochester, such an exhibition might take a current computer and show how IBM and other companies in Southern Minnesota have contributed to technology that has become commonplace.

A third segment of the museum would explore the agricultural industry in the region, perhaps starting with a dinner table and then showing how farmers and businesses in southern Minnesota contribute to the food that people eat.

A fourth segment would feature changing exhibitions, exploring themes that cut across the different industries, such as the changing nature of work, the changing nature of worker expertise, the impact of global competition, and similar types of topics.

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