The Museum Boom

Dec 29, 2013

New museums open every day


Institutions both new and old are feeling the effects of a boom in museum building and attendance in the context of a new cultural landscape.

MUSEUMS are experiencing a boom in popularity as evidenced by the number of institutions having doubled over the last 20 years. China is in the lead with 450 museums opening last year. Visitors are also turning out in record numbers. In developing countries, museums are seen as icons of culture, places for public education and where new countries can present their national story.

Certainly museums are still settings for important collections and centers of scholarship; however, they have now become places where people learn and debate, as they might at universities or art academies. Meanwhile, the numbers show that these new-style museums are onthe right track. In 2012, American museums hosted 850 million visitors; morethan all the big-league sporting events and theme parks combined. In 2012, the Louvre had 10 million visitors, up 1 million from 2011. China will soon have 4,000 museums – just a fourth of the number in the U.S., but it’s on the fast track to catch up.

Some of the new interest in museums can be explained by the fact that in the first world, as in many developing countries, the number of people receiving higher education has risen substantially and a more educated population is more likely to take advantage of what museums have to offer. Meanwhile, for youngsters, museums can offer an inspiring, genuine experience when virtual entertainment looses its luster.

In richer areas of the developing world, museum-building has increased, principally guided by governments desirous of projecting a culturally sophisticated image. These same countries are also experiencing a boom in visitors, boosted by an expanding middle class. In Qatar and Abu Dhabi, new museums under construction are aimed atturning the Gulf into a tourist hot spot for museum goers from Europe, Russia and South Asia.

Within the developed world, public funding reductions in recent years have caused museums to develop new and revamp old money-making strategies including: ticket sales, corporate and individual sponsorship, the loan of prestigious artworks to other institutions and even the contracting of consultancy to newly established museums in developing countries.

Despite the boom, not every museum is a success story. The blockbuster institutions – such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum and the Louvre – are fully booked while local museums profit from community connections and support. However, historic homes and history museums are suffering and museums geared towards a younger audience are now feeling the completion from larger institutions and other attractions. Meanwhile, with the economic crisis, many museums build over the last 10 years are now struggling to keep their budgets in the black.

Nevertheless, new museums open every day and museum building as well as visitor numbers indicate that this trend won’t be stopping any time soon.

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