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Kirchenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998 (326 pp.). Kirchenblatt-Gimblett, a professor of performance at NYU, writes in that art-critic, academic tone that is maddeningly (and unnecessarily) convoluted, yet often incisive and exhilarating. Many of her sentences begin something like, "The incongruity of intercalating two different quotidians reaches an apotheosis of sorts," and don’t get any clearer. But amid the verbal gymnastics, Kirchenblatt-Gimblett intersperses dozens of nuggets – little epiphanies – about the current state of culture, the function of museums, and the relation of both to tourism (although of the three, tourism gets short shrift here). While we don’t doubt that tourists attend all of the museums, festivals, and exhibitions discussed in the book, she generally comes at the topic of cultural tourism through the art, rather than beginning with tourism and looking to see how culture connects with it. She really only addresses the issues raised by cultural tourism (authenticity, cultural appropriation, marketing, working with the tourism industry) directly in one of the nine essays. Most of the book is concerned with the nature of presentation and display, and how that in itself has meaning – when combined with the viewer’s imagination. She is as concerned, then, with the manner in which objects, people, and stories are exhibited (and what that means) as she is with the artifacts themselves. Much of this discussion concerns how museums display and talk about "otherness," and like other commentators, she censures the "human zoos" and applauds the fact that more Native peoples, for example "are taking charge" of displays and interpretations. The opening chapter, "The Objects of Ethnography," asks, "What does a museum do?" and provides a detailed history of the development of museums, up through the modern. Much of this, as one can imagine, questions the very idea of displaying other cultures – Which ones? Who curates? Is it exploitative or education? How much interpretation is necessary? Who does it? The section on cultural heritage tourism, "Destination Museum," is the most relevant and helpful for heritage managers. She discusses the evolution of museums, mostly due to tourism, from buildings that exhibit stuff to places where people experience. A main concern here is that museums drive this development or risk being appropriated by the tourism (read "Disney") industry. There are some funny examples of proposed heritage sites, such as a new Berlin museum that will present the political and social history of East Germany before the wall fell: "Clerks and shopkeepers will be surly and unhelpful." Kirchenblatt-Gimblett exhibits a perceptive understanding of heritage – what it is, how it relates to tourism, how it can be exhibited. Other essays related to cultural tourism include a trenchant piece on the Ellis Island museum (corporate heritage run amuck) and a detailed account of living history at Plimoth Plantation, which she praises for its accuracy and the overall visceral experience (museums planning living history programs should read this chapter). There are other essays on avant-garde festivals, presenting African and Jewish art and heritage, and kitsch; while always interesting, they are less relevant to CHG’s work (although the essay on kitsch is fun: "Kitsch is to taste what superstition is to religion – somebody else’s mistake").


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