Chronicling the development of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s museal initiatives through the institution now known as the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), this article explores the following questions: What happened when this philanthropist of great ambition and means sought to inspire others through the medium of the museum? What might the history of MoPOP tell us about contemporary issues in the museum? How does the saga of MoPOP challenge historical considerations of popular culture? I describe the kind of negotiations and challenges that faced an institution intentionally setting out to blaze new trails. The narrative shows an evolution in the values of the contemporary museum; while the lofty gestures toward a “museum of the future” or “post-museum” failed to survive, the founder’s vision of popular culture as a viable subject for the medium unequivocally triumphed. New values have now moved to the fore, including inclusivity and relevance. Moreover, the story of the museum elevates the power of the personal and the nostalgic in producing the collective phenomenon that we call history.
Busy Being Born: A Brief History of the Museum of Pop Culture
Trevor F. Anthony studies media old and new across multiple disciplines. His twenty-year career in media includes award-winning projects in partnership with institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation, University of California, the Museum of Pop Culture and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Trevor holds a BA degree from Duke University, an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, and is currently pursuing a PhD at Claremont Graduate University.
With special thanks to Joshua Goode, and in fond memory of Anne Adams.
Trevor F. Anthony; Busy Being Born: A Brief History of the Museum of Pop Culture. The Public Historian 1 November 2023; 45 (4): 82–105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2023.45.4.82
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