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Museum piece: what is and what ain’t

September 2, 2010

As a kid growing up in the Grand Rapids area, some of my favorite times were spent with my grandparents, parents and big brother, Larry, at the Grand Rapids Public Museum on State St. NE. I still remember the proximity of the huge whale skeleton overhead, stroking the  wooly mammoth’s smooth bones and feeling a part of the wildlife taxidermy animal scenes. I still have the small bronze animal figures I collected one at a time from the museum gift shop in my living room.

Fast-forward to the 80s and I was bringing my four little boys through the exhibits. I believe the admission price was 50 cents or a dollar. Something a young family could afford any given Saturday afternoon. (Now it’s $8 for adults, $3 for kids plus an extra charge for special exhibits.) My kids loved running wild though the cobblestone street of the old Grand Rapids exhibit and marveled at the huge, rotating globe of the earth outside the planetarium.

I have to admit that since the museum moved to its new digs, I’ve never felt the same excitement. In part, that’s because my memories aren’t there. In addition, many of my favorite  items are no longer on display. Sources say that only 2% of the museum’s holdings are on display in the current museum building. While I realize that 100% of them probably weren’t on exhibit at the old building, it seems like a lot more were.

According to the its Web site, “The Grand Rapids Public Museum has been collecting objects of local and inter-galactic significance for over 155 years, and has amassed a collection of almost a quarter million artifacts and specimens. The collections span dozens of categories, from automobiles to zoology, from furniture to fossils, and beyond. While only a small percentage of the Museum’s holdings are on exhibit at any given time, this website is intended to give our customers a more complete look at the scope and depth of the collections.”

People are invited to peruse some of these treasures online. On special occasions, the museum actually invites the public to come to the old building to view them. However, this invitation does not make these items accessible to the children visiting the “real” museum with their school groups and families. In fact, I bet a very small percentage of Grand Rapids area residents have taken the museum folks up on their offer to visit the old site. Out-of-towners certainly won’t.

Since the current, expansive museum building only has room to display such a small percentage of its holding, it’s baffling that it dedicates approximately 1,000 square feet to an Amway exhibit. While I don’t know if this exhibit was created specifically for the museum or if it’s a trade show leftover, one thing is certain. It’s a 1,000 square foot advertisement for a multi-level marketing corporation that sells products manufactured in China. Since pictures speak a thousand words, take a look at these few shots I took during my last visit to the museum. I say few because they in no way represent the totality of the exhibit.

On Wednesdays in August, museum patrons could also attend Amway Nutrilite Presentations, where they could “join a representative in the Amway exhibit to learn about Nutrilite.  This free and interactive presentation includes free samples of Amway products.”

It’s all well and good that well-heeled area residents bless us with their philanthropy. And it’s well known that such donations are given with the intention of honoring those making them. However, such blatant , overblown promotion of a company and its products has no place in the public museum―especially when space strictures allow so few of its treasures to be shared.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2010 9:42 am

    when i go to the museum i would like to learn about the ancient egyptian pyramids not the devos money pyramids

  2. stelle permalink
    September 3, 2010 1:57 pm

    Agreed! My “guestamation” is that the Amway exhibit is about twice as large as the Egyptian exhibit.

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