A museum (from the Greek museion, meaning place of the Muses) houses historical artifacts for public viewing. Today museums are found all over the world and encompass a variety of disciplines including fine arts, crafts, applied art, archaeology, ethnology, natural history, cultural history, military history, children’s museums, science and technology, botanical and zoological gardens, and numismatics.
The museums we love are filled with treasures that have the power to transform the way we see ourselves and our relationship with the past. They can take a complex subject and make it come to life for us in ways that our textbooks cannot. Museums can be hushed halls that give off a musty smell, noisy centers where kids run hither and yon or places where revered works of art are displayed for the benefit of all.
These places are not only cultural treasure troves, they also serve as a reminder of the human capacity to create and the vastness of our ability to evolve. The most well-known of these are art museums. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Golden Rooms in the Louvre are just two of the many wonders that draw long lines to the door.
Businesses could learn a thing or two from how museums serve their customers. For example, the authenticity of a museum’s purpose improves its image and builds trust with customers in a way that is hard for companies to duplicate. Museums are also experts in leveraging their collection to educate and inspire their visitors. CxO explores how museums achieve this and what lessons we can all learn from their strategies.
There are a lot of different definitions of what a museum is out there, from major museum professional organizations to cute YouTube videos that explain the concept to kids. But one thing that seems to be missing from all of these is the notion that museums are not-for-profit, permanent institutions in the service of society. In addition to researching, collecting, conserving and interpreting tangible and intangible heritage, museums are open to all, accessible, inclusive, and diverse.
While this definition puts more emphasis on the work that museums do and less on the objects they collect, it also addresses some of the museum’s biggest challenges. Some museums have exhibited artifacts with dubious provenance or talked about artifacts from non-western cultures through a Western lens, ignoring the knowledge that indigenous communities have about their own heritage.
Nevertheless, museums are still widely viewed as trusted institutions that are capable of educating and inspiring their visitors. In a world that often feels divided, they offer a common ground for understanding the diverse histories and cultures of our planet. The next time you visit a museum, be sure to ponder the legacy that it leaves behind and how it will shape the future.