Who are Museums For?

Later this afternoon I’m going to be presenting a “star” course for Varsity Tutors, an international online, tutoring service. My course tonight is a FREE, large-format course that allows me to share my Mondays @ the Museum product to a much broader audience than I could on my own. I really appreciate this platform that Varsity Tutors offers to museums, companies and experts from around the world to share their messages in combination with a platform that offers free, online access to people of all walks of life to learn a variety of different subjects.  I did two courses  in the fall with Discovery Center of Idaho and our King Tut: Treasures of the Tomb exhibition and we reached around 8,000 viewers world-wide with each course. 

Now, Mondays @ the Museum doesn’t have nearly the draw of King Tut, and no one outside my circle really knows who I am so,  like people who are nominated for the Oscars often say, “It’s an honor just to be involved.” My fingers are crossed for at least 100 viewers.

What does Varsity Tutors get out of this? They get to see what their following is interested in learning about, they get to possibly reach a new audience that will sign up for their paid classes and a cut of the profit for my small courses that they host in the coming months. What do I get? I get free marketing and alignment with a national brand, exposure and a chance for a profit share with my small courses in the coming months. 

So, if you’re reading this before 5pm MST, make sure to register and join me! 

Having set the stage, I’m giving my blog readers the inside scoop on what I’m presenting. You get the modified-for-blog script for tonight’s presentation and a peek into how I plan to answer the question: “Who are Museums For?” 

Who are Museums For?! 

Before we can really answer that question, we need to have a better understanding of: 

  1. What a museum IS and
  2. Where all these museums come from. 

Maybe if we understand What a museum is, and how museums got here, we’ll have a better idea of  who museums are for! 

Here’s a hint, wink, wink, (They’re for EVERYONE!)

So, what IS a museum!?

Usually I like to ask you first what you think a museum is, but today, we’re going to try something different. We’re going to start with a definition and then break it apart a little and then do an activity to make sure we all really get it..

Here we go. 

Museums are spaces that tell stories about people, places and things using objects and/or images. 

Now sometimes those stories are harder to figure out than others and sometimes the objects and images are more complex than others, but this definition pretty much gets to the heart of what a museum is. 

So first, a space is just that. Space. It can be a big space or a little space. We’re all in a space right now. I’m in my basement. Where are you?  Are you in your bedroom? Or kitchen? Or living room? Or maybe a classroom or maybe you’re outside on your porch! 

We all know what stories are, right? An account of an event or many events with a beginning middle and an end. 

Objects are just things, or to be specific, things that aren’t (usually) alive. Like a coffee mug, or a couch or a sculpture or a bike. (I say not usually alive because spaces like aquariums and zoos are telling stories too, but they show living things, not just objects.) 

Images are pictures or paintings or drawings that someone has drawn or painted, or pictures someone has taken with a camera. 

Will you all do a little exercise with me? 

Wherever you are, look around. Look at the walls and bookcases and all around you. Are there images or pictures  and objects in your room? Are there images or objects that mean something to you? Like maybe they remind you of a trip you once took or of a time you spent with a friend or maybe it’s something that you made or drew and you have it up on your wall to remind you that you did that and it makes you proud or happy. 

Have you ever gone into someones house and felt that you knew them better after seeing the objects or images that they put out on display? If I were to look around your space, would the objects and images tell me a story or many stories about you or your family and what you value? 

I’m going to take you on a quick tour of where I am to hopefully help a little more with this concept. I’m in my basement. The wall behind me is exposed limestone. I live in an historic area of town where the foundations of the buildings were built with local limestone. This exposed wall helps to tell the 105 year history of my house and my neighborhood and the natural minerals that are found in my area. Up on my ceiling, there’s a patch, where my water leaked through from when my son accidentally flooded the kitchen after leaving the sink clogged and the water running. On the opposite wall from me are 4 small painted, square canvases with each of my family members’ names on them and a date. That reminds us of when we had a family painting day and made hand and feet prints together. The clipboards below with papyrus pictures in them remind us of when my children and I made Eyptian cartouch’s on papyrus when we were learning about King Tut. There is a story behind everything in this room and I could go on, just like I’m sure you could tell me a story about every object or image in your room too. 

So, based on this definition my basement or your room could be considered a museum! Right?! They are spaces that tell stories about people, places and things using objects and images! 

Just  like you can learn a little bit about me by looking at my room, Museums give us safe spaces to help us better understand who we are as humans by displaying art and objects that reflect our many values and tell our many stories! Think of that!? I think that’s pretty cool. 

Now that we have a pretty clear understanding of WHAT a museum is, let’s see how much we know about where museums came from! I think you’ll be surprised with some of the answers. 

Where was the first museum? Ancient Persia, Ancient Greece, or Paris? 

How many of you guessed Ancient Persia, now known as modern day Iraq? 

The first known display of objects or artifacts (which is how museums refer to objects) for viewing was prepared by a Persian Princess! Her name was Princess Ennigaldi, and she lived 2,500 years ago!  

Her museum collection displayed artifacts or objects from as far back as 2,500 years before she was alive! What?! 2,500 plus 2,500 equals 5,000 years before us! So, as far as we know, museums, or spaces that tell stories using images and objects, may have been around for upwards of 5,000 years. 

The objects in her museum, which we now refer to as the very first known museum, were from many different time periods and places. They were neatly organized the way museums work now and she even had labels to describe the objects written in 3 different languages! 

How do we know this? Because of a special kind of scientist called an Archaeologist and a particular Archaeologist named  Leonard Woolley who uncovered her ancient museum 100 years ago. 

So, museums have been around for at least 2,500 years AND the earliest we’ve found was curated by a princess!! Woah! Let’s see what else we know about museums

Why do you think  museums were made in the first place?   

  • To please the Ancient Greek Muses referring to the word: Ancient Greek (Mouseion), which describes a place or temple dedicated to the Muses 
  • To share stories of the world & inspire curiosity and wonder
  • To collect, preserve and display valuable treasures from around the world

All of the above!

Our English word, MUSEUM comes from the Greek word, Museon which was a place in Ancient Greece  in which people displayed things of value to celebrate or worship the Muses. Muses were the goddesses of inspiration. There were 9 of them. They worked kind of like patron saints in Catholicism. Instead of musicians praying for inspiration to St. Cecilia, ancient Greeks would have given an offering to Euterpe, the muse of music. There were muses for: epic poetry, history, love poetry,  music, tragedy, sacred poetry, dance, comedy and astronomy. Sounds a lot like the kinds of subjects’ you’d find at a museum! 

In case you’re interested in giving offerings to the muses for a particular project you have in mind, here’s a quick list: 

Calliope was the muse of epic poetry.

Clio was the muse of history.

Erato was the muse of love poetry.

Euterpe was the muse of music.

Melpomene was the muse of tragedy.

Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred poetry.

Terpsichore was the muse of dance.

Thalia was the muse of comedy.

Urania was the muse of astronomy.

Have you ever seen the movie, The Greatest Showman? Well, it’s a story, based in truth, (with lots of great music), all about PT Barnum. PT Barnum was a visionary entertainer and the founder of the PT Barnum Circus. But before it was a circus it was a museum! 

He and others like him,  hoped to expose people to the many curious and beautiful things in the world, highlight human creativity and innovation, to celebrate what is special and different and inspire curiosity and wonder; very important parts of all museums! 

He was probably inspired more by the Wunderkamers in Germany that displayed oddities and scientific discoveries rather than by the Greek Museons

And, just like you display your favorite objects and images in your homes, museums are places that preserve and share stories and things of value for others to learn from! My friend, who works at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California said it really well when she told me that : 

“We have museums to enrich communities and create a  safe and shared social space where people can come together. Museums encourage our sense of wonder and desire to leave the world better than we find it.” 

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for us to experience museums these days.  No one can really travel, but SOON AND VERY SOON we will all be able to! Not only travel around the world or our state, but we will soon be able to go do more in our own cities and towns. And there are museums we can visit EVERYWHERE!  It’s so exciting to think about getting out and about and interacting with the world around us again! 

What’s amazing about the time in which we live is that NOW, Museums are not only EVERYWHERE in person, We can also visit them ONLINE too! Virtual or Online museum collections are incredible because 

  1. They give all of us the opportunity to experience museums from all over the world that most of us who don’t have the funds to travel the way we want to, wouldn’t otherwise get to experience and 
  2. they can help us become more familiar with what we will encounter in our in-person visits, when the opportunity does come when we can visit a museum which will then make our in-person visits that much more exciting.  

You can  sample a little  bit of what a virtual museum experience can be by  going to visit an example of an  Encyclopedic Museum: This means that they have collections of objects and images from multiple time periods and from all around the world. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Join me again in 2 weeks and we’ll visit other virtual collections that look very different from the Met, and I’ll give you some super cool tricks and games to keep your virtual and in-person museum visits exciting for everyone

So,after all of this, what’s the answer?

Who do you think Museums are For? 

Are they for Families? Grown ups? Are they for people with all colors of skin? Are they for people who live in big houses and small houses or penthouses and apartments? Are they for people who like girls and for people who like boys? Are they for people who walk and people who roll? Are they for people who see with their ears or people who hear with their eyes? 

Museums tell the stories of people and the world we live in! 

So, do you live on earth and are you a person? Then, Museums are for YOU! 

And with that…

I’ll see you next Monday at the Museum! 

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