What is a Museum?

The modern museum concept evolved as a result of the convergence of several intellectual and cultural trends, including the Renaissance humanism, Enlightenment, and 19th-century democracy. The idea of a museum as a public space for the exhibition of art, artifacts, and scientific specimens was a new concept that emerged in the 16th century. The gallery, which was a large, grand hall that was well-lit from the side, was used for the display of paintings and sculptures. On the other hand, the cabinet was a square-shaped room filled with a diverse collection of items, including stuffed animals, botanical specimens, small works of art, and curiosities. These collections were typically reserved for the wealthy and privileged and were not accessible to the general public.

The evolution of museums in North America can be traced back to the founding of the Charleston Museum in 1773, and it was around that time that smaller museums began to seek funding via paid admissions. In 1870 three of the greatest American museums were founded: the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This year marked the beginning of the United States as a major player in museums.

At the beginning of the 21st century, museums have continued to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of their audiences. Some institutions now describe themselves as “a museum different,” emphasizing their unique perspectives, programming, and interactive experiences. Other museums, like the “unmuseum,” challenge traditional notions of what a museum should be, focusing on unconventional approaches to exhibitions, education, and community engagement.

Museums and COVID-19

Are Museums on the Brink of Extinction After COVID-19?

This article by David Wyld argues that museums particularly American ones, were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and he backed this up with a statistic claiming that 1 in 3 American museums were at risk for permanent closure after the pandemic. He argues that the loss of museums carries an immense societal risk as they hold invaluable pieces of history that provide immense value to society as a whole. Wyld also states that it’s imperative that we as a society support museums financially whether it’s collectively through legislation in state and local governments, or through corporate or individual donations.

Post-COVID, How Can Museums Remain Essential?

This article covers topics from a CIMAM webinar with the goal of trying to find the purpose of museums in 2021 post COVID-19.

One of the main takeaways from the discussion was the inevitable change in the museum world. The speakers emphasized the importance of shedding old perspectives and adapting to new ways of operating. The rise of digital hybridity and the need for museums to pace themselves with their audience were also discussed. This shift to digital has not only been necessary but also has opened up new possibilities for museums to reach a wider audience.

Another important aspect of the discussion was the economic recovery of museums. The speakers emphasized the need for museums to think beyond just sustaining jobs, but also about how they can contribute to the social and economic recovery of their communities.

Finally, the panelists emphasized the importance of museums having both a local and global perspective. Museums should be rooted in their local culture, but they should also be inclusive and not lead to the exclusion of other cultures or be preferential of some arts over others.