Nation's museums take their lead from a Minnesotan

  • Article by: CHRISTY DESMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2012 - 9:07 PM

Ford W. Bell is president of the American Association of Museums.

Photo: , American Association of Museums

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When the American Association of Museums (AAM) convenes here Sunday for its four-day annual expo, a Minnesotan will be at the helm: Ford W. Bell. The grandson of General Mills founder James Ford Bell, for whom the Bell Museum of Natural History is named, he has always shared his family's love for museums. A former chair for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Bell is now president of the AAM, but remains a passionate advocate for his hometown museums. We reached him by phone at his office in Washington, D.C.

Q What happens at the annual AAM conference?

A It's the largest educational experience for museums in the world. We bring together everybody, A to Z -- from art museums to zoos. We'll have over 55 countries represented. We even have people coming from Mongolia.

Q Here in the Twin Cities, museum administrators got together and planned the inaugural Minnesota Museums Month in conjunction with the AAM conference. Has anything like this ever happened before?

A No. There have certainly been Museums Days.

Q What do you think of the idea -- a whole month for museums?

A One of the challenges we face in this field is getting people to understand the role of museums. People love museums, because there are 850 million visits in the United States every year, which is six times the attendance for professional sporting events. But museums are still viewed as amenities. The reality is, museums are core educational institutions. I like the idea of a month because it gives us more time to promote museums. It gives us a chance to talk about the fact that museums inspire lifelong literacy. They teach creative thinking.

Q What's so special about the Minnesota museums community?

A We have some of the top museums in their categories. The Walker and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are two of our country's great art museums. The Weisman is one of the most amazing academic art museums in the country. I could keep going.

 

Q Let's say a museum-lover wants to book a vacation. What other American cities should he or she consider?

A Obviously Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are all great museum communities. People might not think about San Diego as a great museum community. It has great museums in Balboa Park. Indianapolis is another one. It has a great art museum. It has the world's largest children's museum.

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