What Is a Museum?


Museums are home to some of the world’s most famous art and history collections. While most people are familiar with the likes of the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there are many museums around the world that are equally as impressive, if not more so.

But what is a museum, exactly? That question has become increasingly important, as the International Council of Museums—a group that aims to represent museums worldwide—has been engaged in a heated debate about its own definition. The debate has sparked resignations from several of the organization’s committee members, and accusations of back-alley political games.

According to the organization’s website, “a museum is a not-for-profit institution in service of society that collects, conserves, researches, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. It is open to the public, operates and communicates ethically and professionally, fostering diversity and sustainability.”

The word museum is derived from the Greek mouseion, meaning place connected with the Muses, the patron divinities of the arts in classical Greece. The term evolved into a place where the arts and sciences were cultivated, and later to denote a collection of such items. In modern times, the museums were often established on the basis of a royal or noble foundation.

A museum is typically run by a director who manages a staff of curators, conservators and other professionals who are responsible for the collection. Depending on the size of the museum and its collection, it can also have an education department to provide interpretation for the general public. Museums also have research divisions or institutes, which may be involved in studies pertaining to the collection, and they are often governed by a board of trustees.

One of the most interesting museums in the world is located on a historic site in Tokyo, Japan: the National Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s the youngest of all of the top 10 art museums, and it’s unique because it doesn’t really have a collection in the traditional sense. Instead, it holds exhibitions—69 of them in its first year of operation—and it has a reputation for being very popular.

While the debate over a museum’s definition is ongoing, it’s clear that this type of cultural institution is incredibly valuable. Museums serve a critical role in keeping track of humanity’s progress, and we can learn a lot from the exhibits that they hold.

In an era where companies are facing an increasing need to prove their authenticity, museums offer a unique perspective that’s hard for other businesses to compete with. They have long been trusted institutions that elevate their visitors—and a new definition for museums could make them even more appealing to potential customers.

CxO: Get all the latest C-suite news, analysis and advice straight to your inbox. Subscribe now.

This content is created by CxO Digital, a global leader in the field of digital transformation. Its digital marketing and creative solutions empower organisations to deliver results that matter to their audiences.