A museum is a building that contains treasures from the past – a place that holds an important place in human history. But there is more to museums than the treasures that are displayed inside the building, and there is more to them than the fact that they are open for public viewing. They also serve as educational and research resources, cultural centers and centers of cultural pride and identity.
They often act as economic catalysts, attracting tourism and helping to revitalize urban areas. For instance, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was built in order to revive the city of Bilbao after a period of economic decline. The Louvre in Paris is considered to be the world’s greatest museum, and is famous for its huge collection of artifacts from all over the world including paintings such as the Mona Lisa, sculptures, mummies and ancient Egyptian objects.
Museums vary in size, scope and purpose; some may serve as recreational facilities or be scholarly venues, while others are founded to promote civic pride or nationalistic endeavors or to transmit overtly ideological concepts. But, despite this diversity in form and content, museums are united by an underlying goal: the preservation and interpretation of some material aspect of society’s cultural consciousness.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has defined a museum as “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.” This definition is widely used to guide museum policies, legislation, planning and practice.
Some museums collect items through fieldwork such as excavation, or buy them from private individuals or corporations. They also organize expeditions to collect rare and unusual artifacts, and they can receive donations or bequests. Museums usually have a dedicated acquisitions department to handle these activities.
Many museums also collaborate with other institutions to sponsor joint, traveling or temporary exhibitions on topics that they cannot accommodate in their own galleries. This enables them to reach a wider audience than they could on their own, and it also allows them to share a larger body of work than they would be able to produce by themselves.
Museums are governed by a director, who oversees the management of the museum’s collections and the display of those collections to the public. Most museums have an education department that teaches about their items and a research division or institute that conducts studies related to those items.
Museums are a vital part of human culture and their importance has been recognized internationally by UNESCO, which declared May 9, 2020 to be the International Day of Museums. This day aims to raise awareness of the importance of museums and their contribution to society, especially in the area of education and cultural understanding. The day is celebrated by ICOM member museums around the world and through social media. In the following days, ICOM will continue its consultation on the new definition.