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Thought Pieces

Imagine with Us.

Rainey Tisdale

  • What if museums were barred by law from owning the objects they work with?
  • What if museums functioned like a branch of medicine, and objects were prescribed to cure what ails you?
  • What if museums functioned like lending libraries, and objects circulated through communities like books?
  • What if there were a museum acquisitions version of affirmative action, where collections were required to proportionately reflect the communities they serve?
  • What if every object came with user ratings (1-5 stars), thumbs up/thumbs down buttons, reviews/comments, and a record of every transformative experience it had produced?
  • What if curators weren’t assigned to specific collections but instead served at-large, choosing objects and ideas to work with from many different collections?

We have started playing around with these and other “alternative universe” scenarios, hoping they might help us imagine new possibilities for museum collections in the real world. We would love your input on them as we continue work on an Active Collections edited volume, to be published by Routledge in 2017. How might the above alterations to the assumptions that govern collections hold positive potential, not only for everyday museum practice but also for the public value museums provide to society? We welcome your reflections—from 140-character tweets to 500-word thought pieces—elaborating on any or all of the above scenarios. Or make up your own scenario—we're interested in those too.

You can post in the comment section, email your contributions to Rainey at, or tweet them via #activecollections. We hope to publish the most compelling contributions in the Active Collections book. If we want to use yours, we will contact you to ask permission (so please make sure we have a way to do that). Thanks for imagining with us.