What is a Museum?


A museum is a permanent institution that houses artifacts and objects from a particular period or area of history. Museums preserve, protect, and display these collections for public viewing. While most large museums are located in major cities, smaller towns and villages often host their own museum. The traditional museum model is undergoing a significant shift, with high-resolution images and virtual exhibits replacing the need for physical displays. In Mexico City alone, there are over 128 museums!

The term “museum” derives from the nine muses of classical Greece. The famed “Museion” of ancient Alexandria was not a museum, but a university with an impressive library. Today, scholars date the first museums in Europe to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Other cultures had their own museums: ancient Rome used public squares for displaying statues, medieval churches had sacred objects, and traditional Japanese shrines hung small paintings to attract good fortune.

A museum can be described as a non-profit, permanent institution that preserves a collection of objects, art, or natural science. Most museums are free to visit, and many have a mission to serve society through research and interpretation. A museum is a vital part of society, and serves the needs of both the general public and researchers. In fact, a museum is a great way to discover something new. The Museum of the Atomic Bomb is one of the largest and most well-known museums in the world, with over ten million objects on display.

A museum can also play a major role in revitalizing post-industrial cities. Some cities have embraced the economic benefits of museums. In Spain, the Guggenheim Bilbao was built by the local government to stimulate economic development. The Basque government agreed to pay $100 million to construct the museum. The museum’s controversial price tag initially caused a debate among some critics, but it has paid off financially for Bilbao. In 2015, over 1.1 million people visited the Guggenheim Bilbao.

ICOM’s museum definition process began with consultation. A new methodology was developed, incorporating four rounds of consultation and eleven steps. It is expected to take 18 months, beginning on December 10, 2020 and ending in early May 2022. The timeline may be adjusted depending on circumstances. The committee also approved the new name, ICOM Define. It is expected that the new definition will be finalized at the next ICOM General Conference in 2022. And it is expected to be adopted by the organization’s leadership.

Today, redefining museums has become an urgent endeavor. A proposed definition emphasized democratisation, critical dialogue, social justice, and planetary wellbeing. The constitution of a society has significant impact on the rights of citizens to heritage. Some societies are unequal, and promote overt discrimination. By addressing these issues, the proposed definition embraced the values and aspirations of society. And, of course, it is the job of the museum to interpret the material aspect of a society’s cultural consciousness.