Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Museum of Ideas

An Anne Frank exhibit at the the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The museum promotes acceptance and peace across diverse cultures. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times.

David Gelles, Museums Showcase Attitudes and Beliefs as Well as Objects, The New York Times, 16 March 2015

Most museums are defined by the objects they display. A fine-arts museum exhibits paintings and sculptures. A history museum shows artifacts and documents. A science museum presents experiments.

But a growing number of museums today define themselves not by their collections but by the ideas they promote.

Take the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Founded after the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the museum promotes acceptance and peace across diverse cultures. That may be a noble cause with few obvious detractors, but it nonetheless represents a significant departure. Rather than present an authoritative vision of history, the museum is trying to shape its visitors’ behavior in the world beyond the gallery walls.

An offshoot of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, the Museum of Tolerance has a large permanent exhibition examining the Holocaust. Yet it also features the Tolerancenter, with interactive displays encouraging visitors to set aside prejudices and become more liberal and accepting.

The Museum of Tolerance acknowledges that it is “not an ordinary museum of artifacts and documents.” Instead, the museum says it aims to “not only remind us of the past, but remind us to act.”

Then there is the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. A 70,000-square-foot space that “brings the pages of the Bible to life,” the Creation Museum presents a counterargument to the theory of evolution with a series of exhibits that make the case for the theory of intelligent design.

But are these institutions, promoting causes and trying to change minds, really museums? Even among museum professionals, there is no clear answer.

Read more here

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.