Matagorda County Museum Our Blog What is a Museum?

What is a Museum?

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Museums are places where we can experience art, history, culture, science and more. You can go and see the works of Leonardo da Vinci or Picasso, stroll past statues by renaissance masters or gaze at the intricate work of a modern day fashion designer.

Many museums are devoted to preserving, collecting and sharing their treasures with us. The collection could be art, archaeology, ethnology or natural history. A museum needs a team of people to protect, learn about and share the treasures with us. These are known as curators.

A museum is also a place where we can go to learn about the past, in particular a cultural past, so it can understand what has happened in our present and future. Museums are often a source of pride and patriotism, for example Napoleon I was famous for his collecting of art, often taking it from cities he conquered. This helped fuel nationalistic fervor throughout Europe.

Today there are over 30,000 museums worldwide, and most of them offer free admission. Museums can be found in urban centers, rural areas and even remote islands. They are a vital part of the community and a source of educational and recreational opportunities for the public. Museums can help build a sense of belonging in the community and can be a catalyst for change.

The 20th century saw a significant period of reassessment and reform in museums. This was triggered by major social changes such as the two World Wars, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and periods of economic recession. Governments, professional associations and museum practitioners reviewed their role in a changing society and made many suggestions for improving their service to the public. However, for the most part it took decades before new approaches were implemented and fully reflected in the practices of museums worldwide.

During this time there were a number of museums that developed and grew, while others closed or struggled. This was a difficult time for museums and it is only recently that the profession has come to realise the importance of addressing challenges such as decolonisation, repatriation and restitution.

The Museums Association has defined a museum as an institution that collects and conserves items of cultural or scientific interest, and exhibits them for the benefit of the public. This definition is similar to that of other major professional organizations such as ICOM, but places greater emphasis on the work museums can do to serve their communities. It also makes explicit that museums need to be inclusive and participatory, and foster diversity and sustainability.