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What is a Museum?

During my time as a Createquity Writing Fellow I’ve written a lot about museums partly because I am a museum professional, and largely because, being already keyed into the museum world, I find that there is just so much to write about. Although I had been aware of Fractured Atlas’s work for a long time, I first heard about Createquity when a well-known museum blogger, Nina Simon, wrote about it on her blog Museum 2.0. Simon appreciates that Createquity provides “exposure to a broader arts world.” She’s correct in her assessment that the museum world can be an insular bubble – for all the work we do on engaging our audiences and our communities, we do most of it through a museum-specific lens.

Later in that same post, though, Simon writes, “the American ‘arts’ field is in as much of a bubble as the museum industry–perhaps even a smaller one.” She refers to the museum and arts bubbles as separate, even though many people would consider museums to be a part of the arts. In some ways they are, but in many ways they are not. I get the impression, for example, that large orchestras, small community-based dance troupes, and off-Broadway theaters speak the same language and spend time in the same bubble more than museums interact with any of them. This raises the question – what is a museum? Can we define museums as arts institutions, or do they fit better in another category?