Katchka: Understood, Chika–it makes me realize that the manner in which I have become most accustomed to the term “encyclopedic” re museums is in internal language and rhetoric in museums where I’ve held positions in the last several years (which identify as ‘encyclopedic’)–and those are ‘art’ museums.
It’s clear that most of us have struggled with the categories we’ve inherited, and undertaken initiatives to work with and against our given structures and collections–and interesting to hear the backstories.
Enid, I’m glad you mentioned audience and expectations. While we/curators may frame artwork and exhibitions in ways that speak to concerns addressed here, the manner in which the material is consumed by general and diverse audiences introduces an independent variable (and often unknown quantity). Especially since visitors go to art museums and natural history museums with different expectations, as you say. With all that has changed (or at least developed) in the discourse we share in the last 15 years or so, it strikes me as somewhat disheartening that you (and perhaps others who have been at this for longer) don’t perceive changes in the audience over time.
As a related aside, yesterday I was talking to my bank’s mortgage and loan officer (a member of an educated general audience), and she asked what it was like in Africa: “Is it comparable to, like 30 years ago here? Or more like 80 years ago?” …a framework of progress and progression. (And uniformity.)