Friday, September 21, 2007

More museums

mu-se-um \ n : an institution devoted to the procurement, care and display of objects of lasting interest or value

That's from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, which a journalism professor once told me is the only dictionary that matters because it's used in U.S. courts of law. No offense to those of you who use Franklin, Oxford or American Heritage dictionaries.

Anyway, I was talking with my family last night after watching Star Trek Nemesis (first time for all of us, and it was a good ending to the series which I bought yesterday in a nine-movie box set) and the conversation turned to my recent survey, specifically the museums we've visited. We all realized that we've left off museums from our respective lists, and then it became a discussion on what exactly separates a museum from a visitor's center or historical landmark.

To elaborate on the definition above, I think a museum has to be a dynamic collection, one that actively seeks to procure new pieces for its collection. If the collection is static and unchanging, it becomes less of a museum and more of a gallery or a monument. Procurement means that there has to be funding, above and beyond what's required just to keep the current collection on display. That usually implies the use of civic grants, memberships and patrons, although the scale of acquisitions may be at a level that can be supported by visitor fees, gift shop revenue and donations alone.

For example, I've seen the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, but since there are no new Crown Jewels being added, I don't consider the Tower of London a museum, even though it houses many artifacts of historical significance. It's really more of a historic site and tourist attraction than a living, breathing museum. An interesting corollary is that by this definition a zoo is also a museum, but a specific subset that isn't part of this discussion.

So in the spirit of completeness, I have to add the following museums to my previous answer to the question of which museums I have visited in my life: the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Cloisters in NYC, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Children's Museum in Houston, the New York Historical Society, the Menil Collection in Houston, and the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens in Houston. Three others I'll mention, but don't really fit the description I've spelled out, are the Houston Fire Museum, Madame Tussad's Wax Museum in London, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.