A museum is an institution that collects, conserves and interprets objects of scientific, artistic or historic value for the benefit of the public. It is open to the public and usually charges a nominal fee for admission. Museums often provide educational and recreational activities for their visitors in addition to their collections. Museums can be large and found in major cities throughout the world or small, local institutions.
The museum concept has classical roots in the ancient human propensity to acquire and inquire. Evidence for the collection of objects that had religious, magical, economic, aesthetic or historical value or that might simply be curiosities can be seen in votive offerings in Paleolithic burials and in the treasuries housed by the Greek and Roman imperial families. The modern museum as an institution began to take shape in the early 19th century.
Museums are non-profit, non-governmental organizations and operate according to the laws of their country of origin. Some are operated by government agencies while others are private or family museums. Museums are governed by a board of trustees or directors and most have a mission statement that includes the following:
Historically, museum has been defined as a space in which to preserve and display art, but more recently it has come to be seen as a cultural institute with a broad remit that encompasses all the ways that people create meaning and share culture. A museum that aims to be inclusive and relevant today must address the seismic shifts in our global world and the need to redress imbalances.
For this reason, museums have begun to rethink their roles and to respond in creative ways. Museums are transforming from the dusty halls of school visits and the spaces where established culture legitimizes movements to places that are democratising, include multiple voices and perspectives, are polyphonic, and encourage critical dialogue on pasts and futures.
Many museums are now exploring how they can help to rethink the climate crisis and address the Anthropocene. They are rethinking their role as custodians of the natural environment and of biodiversity, as well as how they can support the resilience of communities to climate change.
Museums are also engaging in partnerships and collaborations to promote the preservation of their collections and bring them to a wider audience. In this way they are playing a critical role in ensuring that our shared heritage is not lost. In some cases, museums are being used as economic catalysts in reviving city centres or rejuvenating ailing urban areas. Examples of this can be seen in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain and the Brooklyn Museum in New York.