A museum is a place that exhibits collections of art and antiquities. It is also a facility that preserves these objects for future generations. Many museums also serve as educational institutions, often offering lectures or workshops to the public.
A large number of museums exist worldwide, with some being very popular and others less well known. The most famous museum in the world is probably the Louvre, which houses one of the finest and largest art collections on the planet.
Most museums focus on a particular subject area, such as art, natural history or local history. However, a museum may also be dedicated to a particular art form, such as painting or sculpture. There are even museums that specialise in a particular type of object, such as books or furniture.
Many museums also have extensive research facilities that enable them to undertake archaeological excavations or to study rare manuscripts. They may also have a conservation laboratory for the repair of objects. A museum that is a centre for the performing arts, such as theatre, music or dance is usually referred to as a “theatre museum” and may include a performance space.
The term museum was derived from the Latin word “muses” meaning “places where the Muses are worshipped.” Since ancient times, museums have been associated with education and culture. However, the museum as an institution that preserves and displays collections of objects for the benefit of the general public is a relatively recent development. Some of the earliest museums were private collections that were gathered by individuals for their own interest. As these collections grew, so too did the need to organize them and communicate their significance.
Museums have been founded for a variety of purposes: to serve as recreational facilities; as scholarly venues; as sources of information and education; to contribute to the economic development of their host region; to promote nationalist or civic pride; and even to transmit overtly ideological concepts. Despite the diversity in purpose, museums are united by the fact that they all attempt to preserve and interpret some material aspect of society’s cultural consciousness.
Some museums also function as commercial enterprises, attracting visitors to their city and generating revenue from admission fees. Museums that are located in cities that have experienced economic decline can become centres of regeneration and revitalization. For example, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was built as part of an effort to boost tourism to the once-declining Basque region.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has developed a new definition for museum, which includes terms such as accessibility and inclusivity. It was passed by members today at the ICOM Extraordinary General Assembly in Prague. The revised definition will be formally approved at the next ICOM General Conference in 2022.