I love the major players in the museum space, don't get me wrong. Especially living in Chicago, where we have some seriously world-class institutions with collections that rival others of their type anywhere in the world. But there is something so special, and unique about smaller local institutions. Something more personal, and downright more relevant to more audiences in a lot of ways. Instead of focusing on the grand, their focus is on their local community's interests and needs. However, this is only achieved with great care and consideration, to ensure that the local and the universal can coexist within their stories and mission.
I really liked reading this blog post about localized storytelling, and the power it can have in connecting universal themes with tangible real world issues on a local level. Some of my favorite institutions are the smaller ones that achieve this mode of storytelling effectively. Like the article states, it is one thing to talk about global warming, and the glaciers a million miles away, or the poles that you may never actually see in your life. But it is another to talk about environmentalism on a smaller scale in your own backyard. Same goes for art and artists - it is one thing to show grand works of artists' passed, and how it either inspired or projected a certain social or political movement. It is another to show pieces from an artist that lives in your neighborhood, experiences similar life events as you, and responds with their work accordingly.
I see more and more of the larger institutions taking these default strategies of local museums as part of their mission - and it's great. When museums (especially in the US) are searching for ways to keep funding, boost visitor numbers, and expand their reach and demographics, taking a tip from local specialized institutions is a great route to go.
So basically what I am saying is, if you feel intimidated by larger institutions, go to the smaller ones! Dip your toes into stories that feel more local and relevant to you personally. Even if you aren't intimidated by the big guys, go to niche museums anyway! You will find yourself glad that you did.
That doesn’t mean universal and local stories are mutually exclusive. I believe they strengthen each other. The balancing act is between telling a universal story that may be abstract and a way of storytelling that local audiences can relate to.