What is a Museum?


A museum is a place where artifacts are displayed for the public to see. Museums can serve as educational facilities and promote civic pride. They also can be used as scholarly venues. Some museums have specialized research and exhibition programs and others may focus on artifacts from a specific geographical area.

A museum is a non-profit organization that acquires, exhibits and protects artifacts, and sometimes even bequests, that represent the intangible heritage of humanity. In addition to the tangible objects, the museum also displays the intangible legacy of humanity, such as the cultural consciousness of society. The museum is a keeper of time, protecting and interpreting material evidence of the past and the future.

Although the word museum appears frequently in the English language, the term is not necessarily a well-defined one. This is because the term is not defined by its functional structure or its territorial character. However, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has a definition for the museum.

The concept of a museum is based on the human propensity to collect and interpret material evidence of the past and the future. Historically, large collections were assembled by individuals or groups throughout the world. Today, many general museums exist in North and South America, India, Australia, and western and eastern Europe. These institutions are generally based on a desire to preserve and understand local culture.

As a rule, museums are open to the public and often receive donations and bequests. They may also organize expeditions to acquire new items for the collection, or purchase existing artifacts. Curators in these institutions are responsible for learning about the object and bringing it to life for the visitor.

One of the earliest and most influential museum developments took place in Larsa, Mesopotamia, in the sixth century BCE. During this time, a votive offering, including works of art and natural curiosities, was offered to the gods.

Another example is the Guggenheim Bilbao, which was funded and built by the Basque government. This building has been able to pay off for Bilbao, which financed the construction.

The ICOM Define committee compiled several definitions, which were then submitted to the executive board. They were then evaluated by the Advisory Council. After months of consultations and research, the group narrowed the list of 269 suggestions down to five and submitted them to the executive board. Those proposals were then reviewed and ranked. Several were passed over. Only one proposal, the 99-word long “Museum,” was approved.

ICOM’s definition of a museum is a work in progress, with the ICOM Define Committee recommending that a new definition be presented to the General Conference of ICOM in 2022. The process is a rigorous 18-month process, with two major milestones: the Extraordinary General Assembly in Prague, August 24th, and the next ICOM Conference in Kyoto, Japan, in December 2020. There are many questions left unanswered, such as whether a museum is just a place to put artifacts, or a place to do research and teach the public about the past.