There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about whether museums should consider breaking the “Rembrandt Rule,” the unwritten dictum that states every object in a museum must be treated equally, like a precious Rembrandt. Much of the discussion has been positive and probably has won a few converts, but is flexible use of collections a prudent approach for museums? Can it be done in a way that respects the integrity of collections, while engaging visitors on a deeper, sensory level?

Potvin writes that the Rembrandt Rule is a long-established principle in the museum field, for good reasons. Perhaps a better strategy for museums would be to permit controlled interaction with some objects, rather than attempt to protect everything. Overall, museums should challenge themselves to use objects creatively, for the benefit of people.

This article poses some intriguing questions for readers:

  • What are the circumstances under which you would permit visitors to touch or handle collections?
  • In what ways can flexible use of collections benefit your museum and your visitors?
  • Is it “blasphemy” for museums to consider allowing visitors to physically interact with collections objects?