Why I Belong in a Museum

13 Aug

Let’s face it, most of us feel a bit like this when we go to a Museum:

I’m the first to admit that my experiences of visiting Museums can mostly be placed into two categories.

A) School trips: You and the rest of your class are dragged around room after room of old stuff, wishing you hadn’t scoffed your packed lunch on the coach and waiting till you can go to the gift shop and buy a glow in the dark keyring pencil thing.

B) ‘Cultural’ holidays; You’re in Rome/London/NY/Athens and you have to tick off the highbrow bit of your Lonely Planet guide. So you go to ALL the Museum(s) and spend the whole time bored, hot, angry and waiting till you can go to the gift shop and buy a glow in the dark keyring pencil thing.

BUT surprisingly there is also a 3rd experience (dun dun dun)

C) Go to Museum, learn something, enjoy yourself and leave feeling engaged and inspired!

This third option is obviously what most Museums aim to provide, sadly most of the time they fall short. This is a real shame because I believe Museums are AMAZING places even if they don’t always get the best rep and, understandably, aren’t always the first thing on people’s to-do list.

So with my limited experience as a Museum worker/volunteer/visitor I thought I would write a little bit about why I think Museums are great but why they often don’t seem so great. Also, without being massively patronising I’d like to give a few tips on making a Museum trip a pleasurable experience rather than the boring hassle filled sweat-fest that they often are. So without further ado…

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Uh, yeah, thanks for that Indie. (Yeah I really had to shoe-horn that in, so shoot me!) So why are Museums awesome? Well most Museums do 3 important things that I think makes them great:

ONE they’re a place which aims to educate the public and inspire children. Lessons and books are all well and good but real, concrete things are much more powerful learning tools. When it comes to getting kids excited about the world they live in what can beat a REAL apatosaurus skeleton, lump of Mars rock or gladiatorial helmet? I’m all about packaging science and knowledge in ways that get people excited and Museums are the perfect place for this. Interactive exhibits and big flashy visual displays may seem kitsch or ‘gimmicky’ but if they inspire future scientists, artists, mechanics and astronauts how can that be a bad thing?

TWO I feel Museums level the playing field somewhat, not all Museums are free (GO POST-THATCHER UK, WOO!) but even those that require an admission fee have free days throughout the year. This means that visitors from all  backgrounds get the opportunity to see things they might not normally have access to. Also, current research, science and art has always been something for the elite. Expensive universities, private schools, personal collections and incomprehensible journals make knowledge a kind of magic; inaccessible, arcane and completely irrelevant to the lives of most people. Occasionally ‘science’ gets wheeled out by the tabloids in ‘intelligent’ articles such as this but otherwise it belongs entirely to the ‘Powers That Be’. Museums take all this knowledge and give it back to the community and for that I think they should be applauded.

THREE Many museums are hugely important centres for research. True, the specimens, objects and curios that are owned by Museums are (normally) dead BUT through research they are brought to life. Without Museums we wouldn’t know that many dinosaurs had feathers, that some famous artworks actually hide previous discarded sketches and paintings or about the ‘sexual depravity’ of penguins! So, much more than simply being great storehouses for old stuff, Museums are some of the worlds most productive research institutes paving the way for future knowledge.

But lets face it Museums can be overcrowded hell-holes, with elusive toilets, confusing signage and overpriced food. And because of this most visitors to the Museums I have worked in don’t look like this

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They tend to look like this

How can you appreciate the wonderful objects on display when surrounded by a heaving miasma of screaming children, lost tourists and dodgy air conditioning? So here are my 5 (blatantly obvious) tips on how to enjoy a Museum more.

1) Go when there are fewer people. This mainly applys to the bigger museums but the first day of the school holidays, or early on a Saturday are likely to be HEAVING. Go midweek, or if you go at the weekend go in the afternoon, 2 hours before closing is always nice and relaxed. That way you’re not swimming through a sea of school groups, hassled parents and careening buggies. Particularly if you’re bringing children going at a more relaxed ‘slower’ time of day will really help you take some of the pressure off.

2) You don’t have to see EVERYTHING. Pick a few things, a couple of choice exhibits and check those out. Having to drag yourself (and your kids) around every exhibition and every gallery is a chore. Go for the things you know you’ll find interesting, or ask of the visitor assistants what they’d recommend. A short 1 hour stint in a Museum where you see 3 things you like is SO much more rewarding than 5 hours seeing everything but remembering and caring about nothing!

3) Bring Lunch. Museum food is expensive, understandably as Museum’s need the money but if you don’t want to spend £8/$13 on a stale sandwich and a coke prepare. Also use the lunch break, go outside if the weather’s nice, have a picnic and use the time to plan what you’re going to do next.

4) Hidden Gems. So most Museum’s have some interesting little quirks. (For example the dodo in the Natural History Museum of London is made out of bits of swan and the dioramas at the Denver Museum of Nature and science have fairies hidden in them). Every Museum will have a specimen with a great story, or a secret annex, or something worth looking at. If you can go armed with a couple of ‘in the know’ facts before going (google is your friend) then your trip will be more fun and more personal. Staring at an ornate wooden stick is all well and good but when you know that the curator who found it used it to kill a king cobra suddenly its a lot more interesting.

5) Special events: Most Museums will hold evenings once a month, or the occasional themed night. These ticketed events really show the Museums off in their best light. You’ll often get to meet some of the scientists, go behind the scenes, see things that aren’t normally on display and have a glass of wine (or six) whilst you’re at it. Believe me, a silent disco under a replica of Saturn = AWESOME!

So yeah, support your local museums and all that.

 [Shameless self promotion] Here is a link to a video I made for the Natural History Museum which kind of expresses why its such a special place. [/Shameless self promotion]
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One Response to “Why I Belong in a Museum”

  1. Ice May 10, 2017 at 11:56 pm #

    Het is maar net hoe je met deze moeklijehgden omgaat!Je hebt echte vrienden die je regelmatig face to face ontmoet maar met familie en vrienden in verre oorden is het wel een leuke mogelijkheid contact te houden.Ik vind het wel een leuke aanvulling!

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