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Museums are Magic

This article was first published online by The Guardian 27 March 2014

Museums matter: what makes our cultural institutions so special?

From wellbeing to the magic of discovery, five museum pros from across the world reveal why they love doing what they do.

Tamsin Loveless, head of communications and development,
National Maritime Museum Cornwall

In every museum there is a little bit of you, whether it’s a recognition that history does mean something to you – and that maybe you should have listened harder at school – or finding that one object that makes your heart sing. It could be an appreciation that your family has connections with years of heritage, or simply a connection to the environment by which you’re surrounded.

Whatever, wherever, you will discover a little bit of you in every museum.

Sara Van Arsdel, executive director,
Orange County Regional History Center

Seeing how a programme or an exhibit changed the life of an individual. Having someone who has viewed an exhibit that is “controversial” or “painful” say: “Thank you for doing this.” Seeing how children are transformed by their museum experience.

Gina Allnatt, curatorial assistant,
Oxford University Museum of Natural History

My job is magical because I get to work with and share collections that contain amazing historical and scientific snapshots in time. Each specimen out of the millions housed here tells a specific story. One moth specimen collected in Borneo 150 years ago can give you a wealth of information through label data on topics such as climate change, evolution, history and biodiversity. I think that’s pretty amazing, and it’s a privilege to be able to look after and share such data.

Miriam Bader, education director,
Tenement Museum, New York

Museums are magical places. They are treasure troves of interesting stuff that make us think and see the world and our place within it differently. They have the power to make us stop and wonder and be curious, to challenge our views, and ask new questions. I have also found them to be filled with magical people who are smart and excited by the work, and the many stories and possibilities that museums hold and can share.

Anna Hansen, head of research,
Jamtli museum, Östersund, Sweden

The magic of working in our museum is that your job is about creating a brighter world. Very few jobs are about trying to make our community better and making people feel better about themselves – but that’s our main mission.

We work quite a lot with the cultural and creative industries, helping self-employed entrepreneurs improve their products by inviting them to use our collections and help them find stories. We work with people recovering from mental health problems, providing a calm and inviting space with no demands. We have an open nursery school where parents (and grandparents) can bring their children to play, learn about heritage and meet new friends.

We do so many things that really matter to people.