For most people, a museum is a place where artifacts are protected, conserved, researched and displayed for the benefit of the public. But museums are much more than that, and their work has a broader purpose than simply educating the masses. Museums can teach businesses a lot about creating authentic experiences that elevate their customers.
A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. Its collection is intended to be representative of the whole of humanity and its evolution, from the dawn of civilisation up to the present day.
It also displays the results of its research activities and provides a focus for the teaching of history, culture, art, science and technology. Museums also play a role in the economic development and revitalization of their cities. They can attract tourists and boost local business, while providing jobs. Examples include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the National Art Center in Tokyo.
The idea of a museum dates back to ancient Greece, where votive offerings of things that had religious, magical, economic or aesthetic value were housed in temples, in specially built treasuries. Over the years, these collections became more diverse and specialized and were often open to the public. The word museum was later used to describe places connected with the Muses, and in medieval Europe it was applied to a variety of secular venues for the cultivation of art and learning.
Today, there are thousands of museums in the world. They range from hushed halls that radiate a musty smell to vibrant centers that are filled with children running hither and thither. They may have a single treasure like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or countless such works of art. They might also contain entire worlds of natural history or a collection of living insects. They are all museums, but they have very different missions.
This year, the International Council of Museums, a Paris-based nonprofit that represents the interests of museums worldwide, decided to revise its definition of museum. A new committee was appointed, and it sought to ensure that museums were doing more than simply collecting objects. But the definition was controversial, and many committee members resigned in protest. This created a rift that is still playing out, with the president of ICOM having recently resigned from her post. Those who are left are trying to agree on a new methodology for future discussions, which includes a more inclusive process. This is an attempt to make sure that all members can contribute to the debate. Ultimately, it is hoped that the new definition can reflect the changing realities of museums in the world and help them work toward global change and values.