Sue at the Field Museum in Chicago. Photo from commons.wikimedia.org
Note: Museums, in this article, include art, history, and specialty museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, arboretums, nature centers, historic sites and similar institutions.
1. Museums make you feel good
Times are tight in this economic climate, and it’s often easy to use a museum admission price as an excuse to stay at home. However, a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive finds that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather than material purchases. According to Leaf Van Boven, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at CU-Boulder, experiences are shown to create more happiness than material goods because they provide positive personal reinterpretations over time. That is, as we revisit the memory of our trip to the museum, we have a tendency to psychologically weed out any negative memories (should there be any). Experiences, such as visiting a museum, can also become a meaningful part of ones identity and contribute to successful social relationships in a manner that material items cannot. So consider foregoing an outing for items that you may not need; going to the museum will make you happier in the long run.
2. Museums make you smarter
There is no doubt that a primary role of museums is to engage and educate the community. Museum exhibits inspire interest in an area of study, item, time period, or an idea– but there’s more going on in museums in regard to education than one might think. Schools rely heavily on museums to enhance the their curriculum. The New York Museum Education Act, for example, aims to create a partnership between schools and cultural institutions to prepare students for the 21st century. Galleries are becoming classrooms, and not just for kids. Even the museums themselves have interesting histories to inspire and educate visitors. It becomes nearly impossible to exit a museum without having gained any information or insight during your visit.
3. Museums provide an effective way of learning
Museums are examples of informal learning environments, which means they are devoted primarily to informal education — a lifelong process whereby individuals acquire attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment. Even outside of museums, informal learning plays a pivotal role in how we take in the world around us. In fact, The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 70% or more of work-related learning occurs outside formal training. A single visit to a museum can expose visitors to in-depth information on a subject, and the nature of the museum environment is one in which you can spend as much or as little time as you like exploring exhibits. The environment allows you to form your own unique experiences and take away information that interests you. Despite the success that museums have already had in educating visitors, there continue to be ongoing discussions among institutions in regard to increasing museums’ ability to connect through informal learning.
4. Museums are community centers
Museums are a lot more than collections of artifacts; they allow you to meet with neighbors, discuss thoughts and opinions, and become an active part of the community. There have been yoga classes at MoMA and Rock Band Summer Camps at the Experience Music Project. Museums are increasingly holding art chats, book signings, professional development classes, and even wine festivals and farmer’s markets. Something is going on everywhere– just pull up the web page of a local museum (or hop on their Facebook page) and see what they have to offer!
5. Museums inspire
Museums provide inspiration through personal connections with visitors, and not only on-site and through physical community outreach efforts; some even manage to connect through their social networks. These kinds of personal memories created at museums do not expire. Please check out this lovely video on the personal impact of museums, created by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance & the American Association of Museums.
6. Museums help bring change and development to communities
Research has uncovered that creating community involvement is more about location than the activity at hand, and this kind of location-based learning (like the kind utilized in museums) is a trigger for change and development within the community. As museums are functioning more and more like community centers in providing access to current research and new ideas, they’ve become hot-spots for civic engagement. In museums, even (in some cases, especially) children are actively asked to take part in their communities. The promotion of education and the cultivation of conversation that are taking place in museums across the nation shapes and strengthens our neighborhoods.
7. Museums are a great way to spend time with friends and family
Museums provide a great excuse to spend time with friends and family in a positive way. Personal connections can be made with museums and also with family members during visits. A day at the museum often translates to a day spent with loved ones as fathers and mothers transform into tour guides, and the environment provides a shared learning experience. Want to take a date to a museum? Here’s how to do it
8. A museum may be your next community partner or business endeavour
It takes a lot of employees to help run America’s approximately 17,500 museums and it takes countless businesses and community partners to keep them functioning. Museums need everything from printing services, to video surveillance, to dino-glue– and they are inextricably woven into the web of American government and businesses. If you are not a direct business provider for a museum, you can get some great PR and possibly borrow an artifact or two for a big meeting if you are willing to contribute a monetary gift to a museum. Alternatively, you can follow the lead of these entrepreneurs who are creating their own museums. Or, at the very least, business men and entrepreneurs can trace the development of the National Museum of Entrepreneurship in Denver, and perhaps pay them a visit within the next few years.
9. Museums are free… sometimes – but they all need your support to keep their doors open
Several museums nationwide offer free admission during specified hours or days of the week. Visit the website of your favorite museum to see if they feature something like this. Perhaps more importantly, take a look at museum membership rates. Often, a membership pays itself off in as few as three annual visits to the museum. When a museum does NOT offer free admission, look into your heart. All museums need financial support in order to keep their doors open. If you like a visitor serving organization and you want to keep it around for decades to come (so that you may bring your great-grandchildren), make a donation or fill out that membership card with pride!
10. There is a museum close to you.
According to the American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums since the original publication of this post) museums average approximately 865 million visits per year or 2.3 million visits per day. That’s a lot of museum visits! It doesn’t hurt that there are museums in every state. To find one near you, try the Official Museum Directory. By conducting a search on the Internet, you may find some rather unusual and interesting museums worth checking out. From the Museum of Wooden Nickles in San Antonio, to the Asphault Museum in Rohnert Park, California, there is certainly something for everyone.