Season 3, Episode 2: The One Where No One’s Ready

Season 3, Episode 2: The One Where No One’s Ready
Reference: Everyone is taking a long time to get ready to go to a museum dinner event where Ross is giving a speech for donors.
Joey: Whats the matter, Ross? You nervous about your speech?
Ross: No… You wanna hear it?
Joey: Am I in it?
Ross: Uh huh. Yeah, right after I thank everyone for giving money to the museum I sing a song about the wonder that is Joey.

Everybody wishes that someone would just come along and give him or her a million dollars, but that never happens. The same is true for museums. Museums have donors who do give upwards of a million dollars, but it doesn’t happen just off the bat (and if it does, you should probably be a little weary).

Museums find donors in a variety of ways. Sometimes the average museum visitor will turn into a donor if they have the right visitor experience. Other times donors are introduced to the museum by other donors or board members. Either way, donors become donors because they are interested in the museum and a relationship has been cultivated. Donors want to know they are appreciated and that their money or object is going to the right place (and they should be—most museums in today’s economy would not survive if it weren’t for generous donors who believe in the mission of the museum). Donors who are very generous are usually given special access to things in the museum that the public is not—such as invitations to special events like the one depicted in this Friends episode. The event the friends are attending is a dinner that the museum is putting on for donors, which features a speech by Ross, one of the curators/paleontologists on staff at the museum. Presumably, donors give objects or money to a museum that has collections they are interested in. For example, a donor may give the Museum of Prehistoric History a million dollars because he or she is interested in dinosaurs. The development staff may then set up a meeting or dinner for that donor with Ross, a paleontologist. The donor will be happy because he or she is able to talk with Ross one-on-one about dinosaurs and the museum is happy because they will now be able to build a new wing in the museum where they can install that giant T-rex skeleton that’s been sitting in storage for decades.

Sometimes donors give money for specific reasons such as to purchase a work of art, to endow a curator’s position, or to start up an educational program. When museums are able to pinpoint a donor’s specific interest (e.g. John Doe loves Modernist painting and has a passion for education), the museum will be able to ask for an appropriate gift when the time comes to make the ask (John Doe would probably be happy to fund a program that helps elementary school children think creatively through looking at Modern Art and participating in an art activity). That’s not to say dealing with donors is always easy. Sometimes donors have a particular reason for donating that is contrary to the museum’s goals. Many people are familiar with Catherine Reynolds, who tried to donate $38 million dollars to the Smithsonian Institution to create an exhibition dedicated to American heroes. It turned out that Ms. Reynolds wanted a say in who would be depicted as an American hero in the exhibition. In the end, this was not a decision that the Smithsonian was comfortable letting someone else make, so the donation was withdrawn. Museums have to be careful that the voice they are using in exhibitions is theirs (or one they approve of); giving donors too much power has the potential to turn sour very quickly. Museums do need money, but donors with the wrong intentions have the potential to ruin a museum’s reputation. If a museum has cultivated a good relationship with a donor, that donor will trust that the museum will know how to use the money most appropriately, in a way that would make the donor happy.

Donors make all kinds of stipulations when they are giving objects. A common request donors make is that their donated object be on display all the time and never be lent or sold. This is just not feasible. Objects cannot be on display all the time because of condition concerns, the need to rotate objects for viewer interest, or the museum’s collecting policy gets adjusted. (Even the best Monet needs a rest or vacation!). However, when a donor just will not relent, a museum will sometimes take a great object with donor restrictions. In these cases, the best situation is to try to (politely) explain why the donor’s request is not feasible and strike a compromise.

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Season 2, Episode 14: The One Where Ross and Rachel…You Know (2nd reference)

Season 2, Episode 14: The One Where Ross and Rachel…You Know (2nd reference)
Reference: Ross and Rachel miss their dinner reservation after Ross is called into work afterhours. In an attempt to salvage their first official date, Ross takes Rachel into the planetarium where they…you know. They wake up the next morning in one of the exhibits, only to find a group of schoolchildren staring at them.

Now, if this were to happen for real, Ross would be fired in a New York minute (not to mention probably arrested). Using the museum for personal reasons and acting inappropriately in front of school children is most definitely unethical.

However, for the blog’s sake, I’d like to focus on a more positive note that can come out of this reference: museums as romantic places for dates.

A lot of people think of museums as educational places where they can go to learn or where people take their children to learn. Those people are certainly not wrong, but it would be a huge misconception to say that is all museums are about. Museum visits are also about having fun and many museums have events that are geared toward adults and young adults. While not many museums offer date specific events, evening events geared toward adults can easily be transformed into fabulous dates. In the long run, museums have only good things to gain by offering adult evening or date events. If a couple visits a museum on a first date and later gets married and has kids, they will likely continue to support that museum by celebrating anniversaries there and bringing their kids to show them where their parents had their first date (and of course, to see all the wonderful objects the museum has to offer). These couples would also likely become members.

Here are several evening events geared toward adults:

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Art After Five

Friday evenings take on a whole new groove with Art After 5, a unique blend of entertainment from 5:00–8:45 p.m.in the Great Stair Hall. With an eclectic mix of international music on the first Friday of each month, and recognized and emerging jazz artists performing all other Fridays, it’s a stylish way to start your weekend.

The Creation Museum’s Stargazer’s Nights

This event is great for Christian couples (although it is open to others) to come and star gaze. The program begins in the planetarium with an astronomy-themed devotional and is followed by a viewing of New Horizons, a show not typically presented at the museum, where you ride on a comet through the solar system. After, you head out to the back parking lot where many telescopes are set up. No worries if it’s cloudy or rainy! The backup plan is a unique presentation in the planetarium.

The San Diego Museum of Art’s Culture and Cocktails

Enjoy live DJ music and cocktails amid the fabulous artworks at the San Diego Museum of Art in the evening. Tours are also offered during this event.

Buffalo Museum of Science’s Beerology and Star Lights

Beerology is an annual event where beer lovers can come to learn about the science of beer! Guests can sample brews, snack on beer-friendly foods, enjoy presentations on home brewing, live entertainment and much more!
Admission includes 10 drink tickets good for one 3-ounce beer tasting each. Additional drink tickets may be purchased starting at 7PM. Also includes commemorative beer mug, unlimited food sampling, live entertainment and access to permanent museum exhibits and galleries.

Star Lights is another annual event where wine and beer lovers can come enjoy tastings while star gazing on the museum’s rooftop through telescopes. Admission includes 10 drink tickets good for one wine tasting each. Additional drink tickets may be purchased from 9-10PM. Also includes commemorative wine glass, unlimited food sampling, live entertainment and access to permanent museum exhibits and galleries.

~

Many museums have cocktail nights, live music performances, star gazing, evening tours or other evening events that could easily be turned into date nights. Museum organized events range in cost from free to $50+ depending on the event. Often, events with a higher fee include some alcoholic beverage, food, or a souvenir. To find events near you, search your local museum’s web page for adult or evening events. And always remember that members typically get into these events at discounted rates and sometimes free.

Your museum doesn’t have any evening or adult specific programming? No problem! Although you may need to be a little more creative, you can certainly create your own museum date. Some museums offer extended hours once or twice a week (usually a Thursday or Friday). Rather than going to dinner and then a movie, make the museum your first stop and have a late dinner. The Idaho Botanical Garden offers evening hours (until dusk). This is a great opportunity to catch a sunset over the beautiful gardens and then head out for a late dinner. State parks and historic sites are great places for daytime dates. Enjoy a tour (or stroll alone) through trails or historic structures and then have a picnic lunch. (But be sure to check the park’s alcohol policy before bringing any beer or wine on your picnic date.)

I hope I’ve convinced you that a museum (or garden or state park or planetarium…) should be the venue for your next date! If not, I hope Tim and Erin in this video will.

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Season 2, Episode 14: The One Where Ross and Rachel…You Know

Season 2, Episode 14: The One Where Ross and Rachel…You Know
Reference: Ross is about to go to dinner with Rachel on their first date when he receives an urgent page to call the museum.

Ross (on the phone with the museum): Whoa, whoa australopithecus isn’t supposed to be in that display. No, no, no, homo habilis was erect. Australopithecus was never fully erect.

Later at the museum…

Ross: I can’t believe this. Look homo habilis hasn’t even learned to use tools yet and they’ve got him here with clay pots. Why don’t they just give him a microwave?
Rachel: Clearly, honey, he’d have no place to plug it in.

Authenticity. It has become a dirty word. I have to admit that for a long time, I threw around the “A” word. Until I became a museum studies student, that is.

What is authenticity and how can you determine whether something is authentic or not? It is even possible for something to be authentic? Or is everything authentic?

For example, the question of authenticity has been long debated by scholars of African art. Some considered only African objects made prior to colonial contact to be “authentic” because anything made subsequent to contact with Europeans shows outside influence. However, many argue that contact with Europeans occurred much earlier than colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries. Portuguese landed in Benin as early as the 15th century and evidence of their presence in Benin art during that time.


(Images taken from http://www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~dvess/ids/fap/benin.htm)

Yet, these pieces are considered authentic by most even though they exude European influence. How is this any different than French, British, or Dutch influence later during colonization? Many African peoples integrated European culture into their own, resulting in a hybrid culture that, according to some, was no longer authentically African. Those determining authenticity were often connoisseurs or large, world-renowned museums. These groups had something to gain from being the ones who determined authenticity. While elevating these works to exception status, the attribute that made them so exceptional was their primitiveness. Those who created these works were considered to be primitive people—primitive meaning closer to nature, isolated, and lacking modernization. When Europeans colonized Africa, any isolation that had previously inspired these works no longer existed. Therefore, the only authentic works were those held in the most prestigious museums since no more could be created. All future made works would have outside influence.

The subject of authenticity does not only come up with ethnographic objects. It also impacts historic sites (is a reconstruction of a site authentic?) and artist attributions (if Rembrandt didn’t paint this, is it authentic?).

Museums, of course, deal with authenticity all the time. In addition to questions of whether something IS authentic, they also have to deal with how to most authentically represent something. Is it better to isolate an object in a vitrine or on a wall, thus elevating it to art by making people consider it only for its aesthetic qualities? Or is it better to try to create a context for it (or, in Ross’s case them, homo habilis) by creating a diorama? Or something in between that presents objects artistically, but tries to put it in context by displaying photographs of the people who made it or the place it came from? Interpretation can suffer if no contextualization is given (such as the first option mentioned above, which was very popular among the Modernists—i.e. the white cube). Even art objects such as paintings require contextualization. Museums use all three of these types of display methods and no one completely agrees on which most authentically represents the object.

In Ross’s display, he is striving for the exhibit to be authentic by creating the context in which homo habilis inhabited. He is irritated because the person who set up the exhibit included clay pots, which were not used by homo habilis. In Ross’s mind, his colleague has created an inauthentic exhibit. While authenticity is difficult (perhaps impossible) to determine, museums must still use caution when curating exhibitions or making interpretations for the public. Authenticity may be subjective, but all efforts need to be taken to remain accurate and consistent in the story being told. If homo habilis did not use clay pots and they are included anyways, the display would not only be perhaps inauthentic, but also inaccurate. Museum visitors trust that experts have done their research and are presenting the truth and museums need to live up to that expectation, despite how difficult that may be at times. At the same time, museum visitors should acknowledge that museums (or rather, the experts working in museums) are not omniscient and new research is always being conducted. Museums should make all efforts to update and rotate their exhibits continually to insure the most accurate information is being presented.

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Season 2, Episode 12: The One After the Superbowl

Season 2, Episode 12: The One After the Super Bowl
Reference: While Ross is in California for a museum conference, he stops by the San Diego Zoo to see Marcel, the Capuchin monkey that he donated. Ross is stunned when he is informed that Marcel has died, and then again later when a zoo maintenance worker tells him that Marcel was actually stolen from the zoo.

Dean Lipsin: Mr Geller?
Ross: Yes, hi.
Dean: Hi, Dean Lipsin, zoo administrator. I was told you had a question
Ross: Yes, I can’t seem to find the monkey I donated last year. He’s a Capuchin; answers to the name Marcel.
Dean: Ah, I’m afraid I have some bad news. Marcel has passed on.
Ross: Oh my God, what happened?
Dean: Well, he got sick and then he got sicker and then he got a little better. But then he died.
Ross; I can’t believe this.
Dean: I’m sorry Mr. Geller but you know there’s an old saying: sometimes monkeys die. It’s not a great saying, but it certainly is fitting today.
Ross: Well, you know someone should have called me.
Dean: I’m sorry. I know this can’t bring him back, but here, it’s just a gesture.
Ross: Zoo dollars?!

A little later…

Zoo maintenance worker: Meet me in the nocturnal house in 15 minutes.
Ross: Uh, hey, I don’t really enjoy being with other men in that way, but, zoo dollars?
Zoo maintenance worker: It’s about your monkey…it’s alive.

Zoo maintenance worker: There was a break in, few months back, inside job. Your monkey was taken along with a snowy egret, a two-toed sloth, and three hooded sweatshirts from the zoo gift shop.
Ross: Oh my God. But the zoo told me my monkey was dead.
Zoo maintenance worker: The Zoo? Do you believe everything the zoo tells ya?
R: That’s the only thing the zoo’s ever told me
Z: Of course they’re gonna say he’s dead. They don’t want the bad publicity… Word on the street, well when I say street I mean those little pretend streets they have here at the zoo, your monkey found a new career in the entertainment field. That’s all I know.

I’ve never worked in a zoo, but I have always considered them to be museums. Museums with living objects, but museums, nonetheless. However, the fact that they contain living animals makes running them more complicated than other museums (at least from an outsider’s perspective). Or does it? Like other types of museums, zoos employ experts ranging from zoologists to veterinarians to collections managers who care for the living “objects” in the collection. There are “curators” (zoologists) for different species who help design “exhibits” (appropriate habitats) for the animals in consultation with “conservators” (veterinarians) who understand the physical anatomy of the animal. There are collections managers who keep track of animal populations and other genetic information about animals in the zoo. Like other museums, zoos largely exist to help educate, so educators are also employed. However, zoos also often serve another purpose: conservation. Many zoos are active in conservation research and reintroducing endangered species back into the wild and consider that an important part of their mission. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (an equivalent to AAM for zoos and aquariums) has many resources on its website about conservation in zoos here.

Zoos also differ from other types of museums in the way they receive their objects. Ross’s donation of Marcel to the museum is probably a less common way that zoos obtain animals (unlike in other types of museums when object donations from individuals are very common). In fact, I imagine that donations by individuals are discouraged because it could encourage illegal or unethical capturing of wild animals. To be honest, I have next to no knowledge of how zoos get their animals save for those being born in zoos (thank you ZooBorns!). So, I did a little research and found an informative newsletter from the Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City, Kansas on how zoos get their animals. As one might imagine, it is quite complicated.

Again, like other museums, zoos write a collecting plan that includes what animals they currently have, what future animals they are planning for, and how the zoo will be managed. Zoos do not get animals from shelters, purchase animals online, or get animals from the wild. Catching wild animals is expensive for the zoo and stressful on the animal. Wild animals are also a medical mystery and since many zoos want to conserve populations, they want to be able to breed animals that are in their collections. Wild animals may have diseases or genetic problems that could be passed along to their young. Also, ultimately zoos want to conserve animals in their natural habitats, so they don’t want to deplete wild populations by bringing them into captivity unless absolutely necessary. There are exceptions. If a species is endangered to the point where it may soon become extinct, zoos intervene by carefully capturing wild animals with the intention to breed them in captivity and eventually release them back into the wild.

Ideally, most zoo animals should come from captive breeding programs. Zoos across the United States are in constant communication and cooperation with one another about Species Survival Plans (SSP) and other captive breeding programs to make sure populations are kept at an appropriate size. There have been cases where certain animals just don’t have the chemistry (as we humans say) and a call is put out for breeding that species of animal at another zoo or a request is made to borrow or keep an animal that can breed with one of the zoo’s existing animals of that species.

A lot can be involved in animal transfer including permits and paperwork from regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the USDA. Transportation is expensive and sometimes cost prohibitive.

The entire newsletter can be read here.

So, now I think I have a good idea of how zoos get their animals (and I hope you do, too). Just as the American Association of Museums has a code of ethics on how museums with nonliving objects should operate, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums guides zoos and aquariums in making decisions such as how to properly breed and care for animals as well as how to “deaccession” animals that no longer fit in their collection or die. So zoos aren’t so much more complicated that other types of museums…just different (ok, VERY different).

The Friends reference here deals with a theft at the zoo. Since I hardly know anything about the operations of a zoo, I’m not sure how common the theft of zoo animals is. However, I recently read Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittmann and John Shiffman and am currently reading The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser, which are both nonfiction books written by investigators about the theft and recovery of cultural property (The Gardener Heist deals specifically with the 1990 theft of several works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston). Both of these books mention that, most of the time, museum thefts are inside jobs. Museum staff know the operations better than anyone else and often have access to the collections (depending on the position and the museum’s policy). Even more astounding is that experts estimate that about half of art thefts in museums never even get reported. Boser states in The Gardner Heist, “Most museums are loath to discuss art thefts. They want to be seen as the vigilant protectors of treasures—they fear that news of a robbery might lead to an erosion in public trust, that a heist might taint their reputation, make the gallery seem vulnerable, irresponsible, negligent” (page 58). So, the Friends reference seems to be accurate at least in terms of other cultural property. Of course, the zoo’s main concern for stolen animals is the welfare of the animal.

I found several articles on zoo animal thefts that others may find interesting.

“Zoo animals fall prey to organised crime” by Harvey McGavin, Tuesday, 14 September 2004

“$38,000 price tag for stealing zoo animals nets thieves grand theft charges” by Eliot Kleinberg, Friday, October 30, 2009

“Alipore Zoo as vulnerable to animal theft as before” by Prasanta Paul

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Season 2, Episode 10: The One with Russ (Second Reference)

Season 2, Episode 10: The One with Russ
Reference: The friends are sitting around after an evening of hanging out and drinking wine with Monica’s new boyfriend, who turns out to have a drinking problem. Each friend recounts how much they drank throughout the night, measuring in glasses, except Chandler, who was drinking from a souvenir from the Museum of Natural History.

Rachel: We went through a lot of wine tonight, you guys.
Monica: Really? I only had two glasses.
Joey: I just had a glass.
Phoebe: Two.
Rachel: I had one glass.
Chandler: I had about a mug full in this lovely “I Got Boned at the Museum of Natural History” mug.

The gift shop. Almost every museum, zoo, or historic site has one. And visitors constantly flock to them like ants to a picnic. Chandler’s mug, no doubt, was a museum gift shop purchase (or, more likely, a Christmas gift from Ross). So, what is their purpose and what is the allure?

The most obvious answer is that they exist because they provide some part of the budget for the museum. However, the gift shop’s purpose and allure for each person may differ based on his or her motivation for visiting the museum.

In his book, Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, John Falk outlines the five visitor types as follows:

Explorers: Visit the museum because of personal curiosity.
Facilitators: Visit the museum because they wish to help someone else fulfill their needs. Facilitators are often parents or teachers bringing their children, but not always. Sometimes, it can be a friend, a partner, or an adult family member bringing another friend, significant other, or adult family member.
Experience seekers: Visit the museum because they wish to experience the place. Often, experience seekers have a sort of bucket list (whether it is a physical, written down list or a mental list) of places they want to see and visit in order to check it off his or her list.
Professionals/Hobbyists: Visit the museum to fulfill knowledge-related goals. Professionals/Hobbyists already come in with knowledge of the subject matter of the collection in the museum.
Rechargers: Visit the museum in order to relax.

So how do gift shops allure each of these different visitor types?

Explorers: Explorers will likely pass through the gift shop after they have visited all of the exhibitions in the museum. As they were exploring, they may have encountered an exhibit that piqued their interest in a subject. The gift shop should provide some products that allow that interest to be further explored, such as books that broadly cover a subject. Explorers may not visit the gift shop because their desire to fulfill curiosity may have been satisfied by the exhibits alone.
Facilitators: Facilitating parents will likely stop by the gift shop sometime during their visit to the museum. Gift shops are usually filled with toys, books, and games for children that are related to the subject of the museum. The gift shop offers parents an opportunity to extend the learning beyond the museum (good museum education programming should do this as well). Provided the child had a good experience during their visit, the purchased item may also serve to trigger a memory of that visit. Here are some examples of things that may be targeted at facilitators (and their children):
Astronaut Ice Cream at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, FL
Prehistoric Dinosaur Play Set at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, NY
Panda bear stuffed animal at the San Diego Zoo
Experience Seekers: Experience Seekers will most definitely visit the gift shop (and probably the café, if there is one). They may even visit the gift shop before seeing any of the exhibits. These visitors will be looking for ways to show that they have checked this place off their list (i.e. will buy things that have names of museums or specific exhibitions). Here are some examples of things that may be of interest to experience seekers:
Umbrella with museum logo at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA
Tote bag with a picture of the museum façade at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Colorful mug with museum logo at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Professionals/Hobbyists: Professionals/Hobbyists will visit the gift shop if they are looking for something specific, such as a book on an artist they are researching. Many gift shops offer exhibition catalogues, which may be of interest to professionals/hobbyists. Often, books in the gift shop may be too broad to satisfy the professionals/hobbyists’ needs. The gift shop should offer to order or suggest places to purchase or borrow books on more specific interests.
Rechargers: Rechargers will probably not visit the gift shop. They are at the museum to have a rejuvenating or contemplative experience and shopping often does not provide that experience. However, if they do visit the gift shop they will likely want to purchase items such as postcards, posters, or coffee table books with works they enjoyed looking at during their visit or photographs of serene gardens on the museum grounds, CDs with relaxing music that they can listen to (through headphones) while going through the galleries, or calendars so they can plan their next visit. Here are some examples of things rechargers may purchase at a gift shop:
A Legacy in Bloom: Celebrating a Century of Gardens at The Cummer book by garden historian Judith B. Tankard at the Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville, FL
Vintage note cards from the New York Botanical Garden
An array of art posters at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Museum gift shops sometimes (ok, A LOT of times) contain some very random things that you find yourself asking, “What the hell is this doing in a museum gift shop?!” However, ideally, all products available for purchase should in some way relate to the museum’s mission. And many do. So rest assured that if you do partake in museum gift shopping that you will probably be able to find something to extend your museum experience.

(And always keep in mind when shopping that museum gift shops typically offer member discounts anywhere between 10-20%!)

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Season 2, Episode 10: The One with Russ

Season 2, Episode 10: The One with Russ
Reference: Ross arrives at Monica and Rachel’s apartment, upset, from a bad day at work.

Ross: Hi…
Phoebe: Hey, are you ok?
Ross: Yeah, just a tough day at work. Stegosaurus fell over; trapped a kid.

My first reaction to this situation? THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T TOUCH THINGS IN MUSEUMS! However, we don’t know WHY the stegosaurus fell over, so I suppose I shouldn’t jump to conclusions that it was the child’s fault.

Museums are places where everyone should feel safe and people shouldn’t have to worry about huge dinosaurs falling over on them. In addition to the massive amount of damage that people can do to objects by touching them, people also should not touch objects in museums because they could fall over and hurt somebody. Museum objects are often large, heavy, sharp, and some even have poison on them. Proper preparation and installation is also imperative for safety of museum patrons (and staff). Now, I’ve never assembled a dinosaur before, so if anyone has I would greatly welcome their input on proper assembly. I imagine that it is quite difficult, but obviously there are ways of temporarily adhering the parts together, creating a support stand, or rigging cables from the ceiling that keep it from falling over.

The Museum of Science, Boston has uploaded a video to YouTube of their staff installing a Triceratops skeleton. The video is sped up so it is difficult to see what they are using to keep it together, but is still really interesting and informative. You can view the video here. I imagine that detailed instructions and videos (in slower mode) are very helpful with installing these large, 3D puzzles.

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Season 1, Episode 29: The One Where Rachel Finds Out

Season 1, Episode 23: The One Where Rachel Finds Out (Season Finale)
Reference: Monica and Phoebe preparing food for a BBQ when Ross comes in, loaded down with luggage, to inform them he’s going on a work trip to China.

Phoebe: How long did you think this BBQ was going to last?
Ross: I’m going to China
Phoebe: Geeze, you say one thing and uhhh…..
Ross: It’s for the museum. Someone found a bone. We want the bone but they don’t want us to have the bone. So I’m going over there to try to persuade them to give us the bone. It’s a whole big bone thing.

Museum work can involve a lot of traveling (one of the many perks of being in the field!). Often, the registrar, curator, or even the director will serve as a courier by traveling with a loaned object to ensure it arrives safely at its destination. Other times, as is the case with Ross, staff members will travel in order to cultivate a relationship with a potential donor who has an object the museum would love to have.

One of the reasons that donors often give their precious objects to cultural institutions is because they trust that their treasures will be in the best possible hands. Therefore, when developing a relationship with a potential donor, it is important that they feel they can trust the museum completely. Because the object the museum wants in this episode of Friends, a bone in China, Ross must travel there in order to plead their case. Once a relationship is built with a donor, sometimes forms of communication such as a phone call, a note in the mail, or a email with a link to something they’d enjoy are more appropriate, but it is much better to make initial contact with donors in person. An email or phone call can seem generic, but an in person visit will show the donor that the museum truly values his or her support.

Since the bone the museum wants is located in China, Ross’s situation is a bit trickier. The political system in China is complicated, so museums have developed and are sometimes run much differently than they are in other countries. The Palace Museum, the first national museum didn’t open in China until 1925. It was filled with all of the imperial treasures and was quite popular from 1928-1931 because it was the first time non-imperials were able to access the collection. However, in 1931, the Nationalist Government ordered that the most valuable piece be moved. They eventually landed in Taiwan, where they remain today. The pieces were almost never loaned, save for a few exceptions such as the “London International Exhibition of Chinese Art” at the British Museum in 1935 and “Ancient Chinese Art Exhibition” in 1961 which travelled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, The Met in New York, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Some of the Chinese feared that loaned objects would not be returned and it has been suggested that the Chinese government refrained from loaning objects for this reason. Others have suggested that the Chinese public feared that corrupt officials may try to sell some of the valuable artifacts “under the table” to museums abroad. When the objects returned from their travels abroad in the 1960s, they were exhibited as a whole in China to show the public that everything was still there. Additionally, because of the political system in place in China today, securing loans or donations can be complex. Not impossible, but complex.

Another debate that this museum reference brings up is the debate over who owns or should own cultural property. Take for example, the Elgin Marbles (which is, in itself, a huge debate). The Elgin Marbles are, perhaps, the epitome of classical Greek art and, therefore, an important part of Greek culture. Some believe they should be returned to Greece and others believe more people will have access to them in they remain in England, which is more travelled than Greece. It is certainly a reasonable debate from either side. However, something such as a dinosaur bone that is found in China presents a different debate. There is nothing particularly Chinese about a dinosaur bone. Dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era, which ended over 65 million years ago. The breakup of Pangaea occurred during the beginning of the Mesozoic Era, so dinosaurs were creatures of the entire world and are just as much a part of North American (or European, or African or South American…) history (or prehistory), as they are Chinese. So should the Chinese have a right to it since it was found on their land? It is certainly an artifact belonging to the world. And who should say where the best for it to be displayed is?

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