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Why I love museums
“Museums bring history to life. A cliché, but one based on truth” Photo: GETTY

Claire Hayward, 21 reasons why museums are great,
3 October 2014

Claire Hayward, objecting to an article by Oliver Smith, shares her love of museums …

While Oliver Smith, in his article “21 Reasons Why I Hate Museums”, identified a number of valid problems, such as the price of temporary exhibitions, and the amount of objects not on display, I can’t understand how he can “hate” them. So here’s my list of 21 reasons why I love them.

  1. Museums are open to everyone, regardless of class, gender, race, religion, ability or sexuality.
  2. Artefacts are portals to the past. Like Smith, I don’t particularly find ceramics interesting, but neither would I call them boring. Artefacts can be really important, especially when visitors can touch and interact with them. And they can invoke a whole range of emotions.
  3. Artefacts tell multilayered histories. A Roman goblet shows us how people drank and socialised, as well as encouraging us to think about the influence of class and status on feasting and socialising.
  4. Museums can cover every topic. Smith complains that a pencil is “considered museum-worthy”. I’ve never been to the Pencil Museum in Cumbria, but a quick look at its website tells me it hosts drawing workshops for families and a range of art-based tutorials. Its winter exhibition is World War 2 Secret Pencil, “a culmination of a 12-month research project detailing the exploits of the management team during the Second World War and a secret agent in MI9”. If that’s not museum-worthy I don’t know what is.
  5. Children engage with history. Museums are an incredible way to learn about history, often hands-on.
  6. Museum Lates are SO MUCH FUN. I’ve been to lates at the British Museum, the V&A and the Science Museum. I’ve seen a stand-up show on physics, had my make-up done as Bowie, and swanned about exhibition rooms with beer in hand.
  7. National museums are free.
  8. People have started taking selfies in museums. Earlier this year there was a #MuseumSelfie day – a fantastic idea. Museums are making a big effort to keep up with the digital age, to move their collections and the experience of engaging with them forward. People take selfies, so why not encourage this in a way that directly engages them with the museum experience?
  9. Museums have cafés, bars and sometimes outside terraces where you can sip wine, critically analysing the connection between a self-portrait from the 16th century and the selfie you’ve just taken in front of it.
  10. Museums are online, too. You can download everything from apps to digital trails and it’s easy to find out about objects before you visit, enhancing your experience of being there. You can also see online collections from museums out of geographical reach.
  11. Museums have shops. I know they can be tacky and a rip-off, but purchasing something from the museum shop can enhance the visit – it’s something to take home, a lasting, tangible memory.
  12. You get a different experience each time. Most museums have a guided tour, some have audio guides, and of course you can wander about at your own pace.
  13. Museums host events – some brilliant, public, free events including lectures and workshops, staged in incredible buildings.
  14. Local museums provide a community with a sense of place and a collective heritage, and are a great way of getting to know the history of a particular area.
  15. They’re interactive. Screens break and tablets stop working, yes, but museums are on the path to being truly interactive. Digital activities can give a greater wealth of knowledge – there is so little room for curators to describe items but an interactive screen gives more space for context and detail.
  16. Museums are hugely important for tourism in the UK, and contribute significantly to a tourist’s experience of visiting the country.
  17. Museums share. Not all of them can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on one artefact, so travelling exhibitions and even travelling artefacts are really important.
  18. Museums engage with other forms of public history. A History of the World in 100 Objects was a collaborative project between the BBC and the British Museum in 2010. It aimed to showcase the history of the world through objects in the British Museum, and holds a database of many other items from other museums and contributors. The BBC also broadcasts a series of radio shows about the objects, giving them further context and details of their significance.
  19. Museums look to the future. Museums not only present the past to an audience today, but look forward to the way they will work in the future.
  20. Museums can go to great lengths to make sure marginalised voices and histories are heard and integrated into history.
  21. Museums bring history to life. A cliché, but one based on truth.

CAMD was alerted to this article by the ‘Museums Matter’ Facebook site which is an initiative of Museums & Galleries Qld