Thursday, May 24, 2007

I'm Not Entirely Sure How I Feel About This

I was scanning the New York Times online today when I came across this article. It's about a new museum which is getting ready to open in Kentucky. The thing that's different about this particular museum is that it's a museum based entirely on Creationism. And they make no secret of this fact. The name of the museum is the Creation Museum.

Now, I'm not one to try and tell people that their beliefs are wrong. I simply don't work that way. I don't happen to believe Creationist theory, but other people have every right to and they have every right to build a museum to share their beliefs. But . . . as a historian (even a rogue one), the idea of a Creationist natural history museum is slightly odd to me. And as a pagan, I am always a little leery of hard-line Christian ideology - too much bad blood on both sides over the millennia. And before anyone asks, I'm not planning on sharing my particular religious/spiritual ideologies. I feel that religion is particular to the individual, which means it's very difficult (if not nearly impossible) to truly convey those ideas to another in any way that they can actually understand. But that's a whole other rant for another time - perhaps.

Anyway, back to the Creation Museum. Even if I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it personally, I can make a few comments professionally. First, I'm interested in seeing how many visitors it will get a year. According to the NYT article, they say they are expecting a quarter million visitors in the first year. That's about 685 people a day. (By way of comparison: the Smithsonian Museums had about 23 million visitors in 2006 - over 63,000 a day; the Denver Museum of Nature and Science had 1.48 million - 4,055 a day; and the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum has about 550,000 a year - 1,500 a day). I would say that the Creation Museum has a good chance of meeting their goal in the first year - and only in their first year. They will be something new and different, and people will be more interested. After that first year, however, their numbers will go down as the people who came just to see it because it was new and different stop coming. I simply do not see them maintaining that level of interest beyond that. Second, I am very afraid of the potential academic and professional backlash they may get. Academics and professionals are not always the kindest people when it comes to disagreements on foundational theories and ideologies. And I can see this getting real ugly, real quick. Third, the museum seems to be making a big deal of the fact that they received enough in donations to allow them to open without any debt. I applaud them for this. But I would caution them that, like their visitor numbers, they should not be counting on this continuing. It's expensive to keep a museum open and running. Normally, a great deal of this cost goes to developing new exhibits to keep people coming in. With something like Creationism, which doesn't really change all that much, is this going to be an issue? I really don't know, although I still think that they will have to make some changes over time just to keep people coming back.

Regardless of how things go for them, I'll be curious to see what happens.

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