Museum Encyclopedia Article, Definition, History, Biography


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"A museum is a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment." (ICOM Statutes, article 2, para. 1. This definition was adopted by the ICOM General Assembly in Copenhagen in 1974.)

Modern museums concentrate on a particular subject, and most museums belong to one or more of the following categories: fine arts, applied arts, archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, history, cultural history, science, technology, natural history. Within these categories many museums specialize further, e.g. museums of modern art, local history, aviation history, ariculture or geology.

Open air museums collect and reerect old buildings at large out-door sites, usually in settings of re-created landscapes of the past. The first one was King Oscar II's collection near Oslo in Norway, opened in 1881. In 1891 Arthur Hazelius founded the famous Skansen in Stockholm, which became the model for subsequent open air museums in Northern and Eastern Europe, and eventually in other parts of the world. Most open air museums are located in regions where wooden architecture prevail, as wooden structures may be translocated without substantial loss of authenticity. A more recent but related idea is realized in the ecomuseums, which originated in France.

Early museums began as princely collections of art and rare or curious natural objects and artefacts.

Interior of the British Museum
Interior of the British Museum

Museums are usually open to the general public for a fee. Some museums have free entrance, either permanently or on special days, e.g. once per week or year.

The museum is usually run by a curator, who has a staff that cares for the objects and arranges their display. Many museums have associated research institutes, which are frequently involved with studies related to the museum's items.

Either the museum itself or an associated institute may organize expeditions to acquire more items or documentation for the museum, an activity famously depicted in the opening of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Museums may also acquire items through donations, sales or trades. For instance, a museum featuring Impressionist art may receive a donation of a Cubist work which simply cannot be fit into the museum's exhibits, but it can be used to help acquire a more relevant painting. Larger museums will have an "Acquisitions Department" whose staff is engaged fulltime in this kind of activity.

Museums often cooperate to sponsor joint and often traveling exhibits on particular subjects where one museum may not have a sufficient collection or where the greatest works on a subject are collected. These exhibits have limited engagements and often require an additional entry fee.

The word comes from the Latin museum, which is in turn derived from the Greek mouseion, which refers to a place or temple dedicated to the Muses, the patron divinities in Greek mythology of the arts.

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Museum Organizations

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is an international organisation of museums and museum professionals which is committed to the conservation, continuation and communication to society of the world's natural and cultural heritage, present and future, tangible and intangible. Created in 1946, ICOM is a non-governmental organisation maintaining formal relations with and having a consultative status with UNESCO. As a non-profit organisation, ICOM is financed primarily by membership fees and supported by various governmental and other bodies. It carries out part of UNESCO's programme for museums. Based in Paris (France), the ICOM Headquarters houses both the ICOM Secretariat and the UNESCO-ICOM Museum Information Centre.

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Museum Designers

Notable international museum designers include Ralph Appelbaum and Edwin Schlossberg.

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See also

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External links



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Museum Encyclopedia Article, Definition, History, Biography