Below, I've listed the author's bullet points, each followed by my own response. I welcome thoughtful feedback and discussion. (At right, an image from a recent trip to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.)
1. You only go because you've been told to // Museums offer more than beautiful buildings!
Many travelers don’t know where to begin, the first time they visit a foreign city- or even another region of their own country. Familiar stops like restaurants and bars, or shopping districts, or parks, are one easy and pleasant way to absorb a different atmosphere, but many people also like to know the history or a deeper context for the culture they’ve come to experience. Museums are so often recommended for tourists because they have priceless and unique objects, but also resources: like guides, docents, reception desk staff, and lots of other folks who want to provide visitors with a good experience, and to offer their advice and recommendations. Museums aren’t simply buildings or object collections: they’re also collections of people who are passionate about their work. Visitors to the Gizi Bajor Memorial Museum (mentioned by the author as a 'must-miss') might in fact be film or theater buffs, who would enjoy a talk with a knowledgeable guide on the best places to find independent cinema in Budapest. So-called ‘fringe’ museums are often great places for discovering enthusiastic local experts!
2. You’d be happier doing something else // Museums can cater to a wide range of tastes, or to your exact needs!
Thankfully, everyone is different. That’s why, for example, just one city- Philadelphia- has dozens of different museums, all catering to different groups, interests, ages, and knowledge levels. Choosing the right museum for your visit can make the experience thrilling instead of frustrating. For very young children, there’s the Please Touch Museum- for older ones (and fun-loving adults) there’s the science-rich Franklin Institute, or the Academy of Natural Sciences. There are the city’s many art museums, from the Barnes Collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the student galleries at PAFA, or the contemporary art showcased at the ICA. There are museums of medical oddities and historic collections of artefacts and Revolutionary-era house museums and beautifully preserved gardens. A visit to Bartram’s Gardens, for example, or a stroll through the sculpture gardens at the PMA, could include a picnic and as much idle conversation as anyone could desire!
Long wait times can certainly put a damper on enthusiasm, but thankfully in this modern era, electronic ticket sales can help some visitors make plans in advance- while smartphone users can make wait times in line go faster as you plan your path through the galleries with the many maps and guides available on museum websites. In line at the Crystal Bridges Museum, you could even preview the music-filled audio tour for the exhibition This Land (http://crystalbridges.org/exhibitions/this-land/), which the museum made available as a free app.
3. The artefacts are boring // Museums are unique teachers about the past (and future).
Artefact collections are no less than time machines: they allow you to glimpse the daily lives of people who passed off this earth hundreds or thousands of years ago. They provide a bridge between the ancient world and the modern one, demonstrating the skill and intellect and imagination of the countless generations who preceded us. If you’re bored by clay pots, take a moment to imagine a potential museum of the future, as a bright-eyed kid of the fortieth century stares down at your own perfectly preserved laptop. Museums are forces for connection and understanding. They are a way to share our collective past with one another, and to work together to imagine what’s to come. As I said above, everyone’s different- but I can’t imagine anything more exciting!
Many museums, too, have recognized that visitors can become overwhelmed and frustrated by large collections or displays that offer them little focus. That’s why exciting interpretation projects (both digital and hands-on) have sprung up in many places- for an example of new museum engagement, see the Graphite digital catalogue recently produced by the Indianapolis Museum of Art (http://www.imamuseum.org/exhibition/graphite), a 2014 winner of a MUSE Media and Technology Award. This immersive exhibition app allowed visitors to read critical excerpts and artist biographies, as well as to watch video interviews showing the artists at work. Far from boring, apps and projects like these work hard to give their users a personal and informative experience!
4. Because this is considered museum-worthy
5. So is this // Museums are vastly different from one another in size and scope.
Many larger museums want to attract a broad audience and to serve and educate as many members of the public as they can- so often small collections, or truly niche objects, don’t get wall space. Does that mean these objects belong nowhere? Small, funky, quirky collections can be the lifeblood of their local community- and sometimes provide researchers and students with invaluable information and objects not found anywhere else. In Paris, the small and unusual Musee de la Contrefacon provides a fascinating glimpse of the world of forgeries. And tucked into a small corner of Staten Island is the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art- praised by the Dalai Lama himself for its beauty and authenticity. These unique places provide rich rewards to folks willing to venture off the beaten path.
6. The atmosphere is funereal // Museums increasingly offer new ways to interact with collections!
Many assumptions about visiting museums- that silence is rigidly enforced, that visitors are not to stand in front of paintings and discuss them- are not based in actual museum rules! Sure, common courtesy should be observed. But museums can be places for conversation and interaction. And innovative programs, such as the Art Splash initiative at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (http://www.philamuseum.org/artsplash) have created spaces within the museum for play, creativity, and art-making. These programs invite youth and adults to “meet” their favorite works in new ways, to respond to them in art or writing, and to share their responses with others. The lively second-level Art Splash playspace at the PMA is much more party than funeral!
To be continued....