A museum is a non profit cultural institution, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches and communicates the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment, for the purposes of education, study, enjoyment and appreciation. There are some who argue that a museum is only an art gallery with paintings and sculptures on display, however museums can be much more than that. Many museums exist to promote the arts in their communities and some work with local schools to help children understand art and history. A museum can also be an historic site, a house or a ship that has been converted into a living history museum. Some museums don’t even have buildings and are simply a collection of objects.
The best known museum is the Louvre in Paris, France which is home to the Mona Lisa and many other priceless treasures. This museum covers the history of the world through its collections which include sculptural works, drawings and paintings. It is the most visited museum in the world and receives over 8 million visitors per year.
Another famous museum is the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia which contains an incredible array of masterpieces. The Hermitage is the second most visited museum in the world and receives 5.5 million visitors annually. It is also the largest art museum in the world, housing over three million items.
Many museums are funded by donations of money and artwork which may be donated by wealthy patrons or by ordinary citizens with a personal connection to the art. Museums may also purchase art and sometimes exchange pieces with other museums around the world. This enables them to have a greater variety of art on display and to host more blockbuster exhibitions which draw record numbers.
Museums are often seen as a source of nationalistic fervor and as tools to educate people about their own culture. Some museums are also involved in the economic revitalization of their cities. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain is an example of a museum that was built to help revitalize the city’s economy.
There are now a number of museums in the US that are being threatened with closure because of budget cuts and the lack of support from the government. Despite these challenges, the American Alliance of Museums says that they are confident in their ability to survive.
The International Council of Museums has been working on a new definition for a museum that places more emphasis on the social and civic roles that museums should play. The new definition is expected to be voted on at the next ICOM General Conference in 2022. A broad outreach project was undertaken to develop the definition. Representatives from 126 of ICOM’s member museums were spoken to over an 18 month period in four rounds of consultation by the Icom Define committee. The new definition calls on museums to cede some of their authority and shift their focus from transmitting knowledge to fostering dialogue and connection.