I came across a link to an article on The Economist about museums and how they’re attracting new visitors. Museums: Temples of delight. The premise of the article is based on how museums are changing. These days, you can find out about pretty much anything on the internet. Why would people want to go to museums to see and learn about things? But they certainly are. According to the article, 3/4 of all Swedish adults visit a museum once a year. That’s amazing! But it doesn’t really explain what the attraction is.
One theory is that as more people are getting better educations, they like to visit museums as an extension of that education. The next two paragraphs, quoted from the article, are the ones I find particularly interesting.
In developed countries museums are being championed by a wide variety of interest groups: city fathers who see iconic buildings and great collections as a tourist draw; urban planners who regard museums as a magic wand to bring blighted city areas back to life; media that like to hype blockbuster exhibitions; and rich people who want to put their wealth to work in the service of philanthropy (“a way for the rich to launder their souls”, as one director put it). For young people they are a source of something authentic and intriguing when their electronic entertainments start to pall.
In the more affluent parts of the developing world, too, museum-building has flourished, driven mainly by governments that want their countries to be regarded as culturally sophisticated (though wealthy private individuals are also playing a part). They see museums as symbols of confidence, sources of public education and places in which a young country can present a national narrative. Visitor numbers in such countries are also rising fast, boosted by a growing middle class. Some hope to use cultural offerings to attract many more foreign tourists. In Qatar and Abu Dhabi, for instance, a clutch of new museums under construction is meant to turn the Gulf into a destination for visitors from Europe, Russia and South Asia. Chinese museums received more than 500m visits last year, 100m more than in 2009.
Tourism, urban development, philanthropy, cultural status and a reality check? These days museums are not just about reading information boards beside the exhibits. They incorporate multi-media, encourage participation, making a visit to a museum an experience. And while I often find the “Experience” more of a tourist trap than a true overall feeling, in many cases, museums especially, it really can add to the visit. In order to keep people coming and attract new visitors, especially younger people, you gotta entertain them to keep their interest and I say, what’s wrong with that? If being interactive and entertained teaches someone about any subject, isn’t that a good thing?
I love museums and when I travel I always plan to take in at least one or more. I may not have the stamina to spend hours and hours in the big ones but I will still take in highlights or areas of it that interest me the most. I like museums, large ones or small, unique ones. Sometimes the smaller and more unique, the better though these are the ones that are struggling to stay open! I like museums because I’m interested in history and art and where it all comes from and how things evolve to what they are today, in many cases.
One of my favourite museums is the Museum of London that traces the history of the city back to the Romans. Another similar one is the Glasgow People’s Museum. Social history museums of just one period in history or the history from the beginnings to current day of an area or city are really interesting and also important to help you relate to how the past shaped the present. What was life like 200 years ago? Are there similarities in how people lived then to how they do now?
In that article from the Economist, there are a few icons for oddball museum topics and at least one of them, ‘dog collars’ is one I’ve been to. It’s in Leeds Castle in Kent, England and is just a couple of rooms of glassed cases but it’s fascinating! Other interesting smaller museums include the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, the Sir John Soan Museum in London and the Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, just to name a couple. I love these odd and unique museums even if just because they can be so bizarre. The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle was awesome and the Crypt for the Cappuchin Monks in Rome, with chapels decorated in bones of thousands of monks is superbly strange!
I’ve also been to special exhibits in locations that aren’t strictly museums but which do have displays on a revolving or semi-permanent basis. The British Library has a display of some of their treasures and a few years ago, we got tickets for a fantastic exhibit on Henry VIII. That had many multi media aspects including audio, video, and even a hologram of Henry in his armour. Very cool! It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up to see the letters he wrote and notes he wrote in the margins of books.
On our next trip, we’re going to Paris and I’m hoping to see the Musee Carnavalet which tells some of the story of Paris. We’re also planning to see the Military Museum and Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. We are even doing a day trip to see the Bayeux Tapestry on display and will probably take in something about Joan of Arc in Rouen and stroll through Monet’s garden and house at Giverney.
What’s your favourite museum? Do you prefer the big ticket ones or small, intimate ones? Do you seek out a particular topic or type of museum?