How NOT to Visit a Museum

  • With 12 people– Seriously. Inevitably you will spend more time waiting for half the group to catch up, use the bathroom, and make a decision about what to do next than actually seeing the museum. Half your time will be eaten up. Then as you’re visiting an exhibit you’ll be compelled to repeatedly count noses (or neon green shirts) to be certain that none of your young (or senior) charges have wandered away. The result is a fragmented experience where you see the broad topic of an exhibit and perhaps two or three isolated details, but little of the particular treatment of the topic. The few times you do engage in a display, one of your crew will inescapably wonder aloud what’s taking you so long and can’t you keep up? One example? Eight of us crowded around the slowly rotating Hope Diamond at the end of the gems exhibit. One of the cousins asked, “Why is it so important?” “Let’s find out,” I responded before stepping over to a large plaque with a timeline of key moments in the history of the stone. I began to read that it was shipped to France (I think from India), was stolen from one of the Kings Louis, later sold to one of the English kings and… “Come on! Everyone left already!” Qaiden said as he tugged at my sleeve. Oh well. I guess it’s just a big shiny rock. And some of your group will just sit and nap on a bench anyway after all the trouble of getting everyone there…or leave without telling anyone.


  • Squished between other items on an itinerary– A museum deserves its own space and time. Inevitably it takes longer to appreciate in person than you imagined when you noted its location on the map and perhaps the front page of its website. (Only partly because of your travelling companions-see previous.) If it’s worth navigating to and passing through security for, it’s worth actually seeing it.


  • Before, after, or between other museums–Museums are enriching, but also exhausting. Face it. As an adult you can only take in so much new information at once. If you’re travelling with children, adolescents, or anyone with a limited attention span, the threshold is lower. If you’re fascinated by the topic–more. If you wonder why anyone bothered to even collect this stuff–less. If you have background knowledge or get to touch things–more. If it’s quiet, dark, and hands off–less.
  • At lunch time– Come on. You’re hungry. Even if you’re standing in front of an exhibit you’re wondering where, when, and what lunch will be. Now imagine hiking toward the museum without actually knowing how to get there. You thought it would be best to get to the museum and then feed the kids, because when they finished eating, off they could go to the exhibits at their own pace. But it’s ten degrees hotter than you counted on. It turns out the museum is still six blocks from the bus stop, and there’s a long line to go through security. Between the heat and the hunger someone is about to drop. You can’t even make it inside to the air conditioned cafeteria. Instead, you tug the kids up to the food truck with the shortest line and hawk its selections with more enthusiasm than they deserve. “Look! Hot dogs! Or you could have a burger!” Then you send them back across the jam packed sidewalk to pull up a seat on the stone wall in the little bit of shade there is. Don’t worry, you can sit on the 2 inch wide iron railing between sections of the wall. It’s probably best not to mention to anyone that you’re literally swooning in the heat. There are seven kiddos and three of the other adults haven’t caught up yet. It’s not like they can spare you right now.


  • After walking 2 miles–You know that museums involve standing. And walking. Those are their two main requirements. You walk from one room to the next, then stand and admire whatever the museum is showing off. If you’ve been doing more walking than usual before you arrive, your group mates will have a tendency to want to sit down. That makes it hard to see a museum. It does make your group more likely to pause for the various short films embedded in an exhibit-regardless of topic. Sometimes you even stay to see it a second time. But halfway through whatever you’re visiting someone will undoubtedly ask, “When can we leave? My feet are tired.”

  • Trying to see every exhibit–I think I taught my boys the wrong way to visit a museum when they were very small. I have the sense that once you’ve formed the habit it’s very hard to break. We arrive at a museum and since it took effort to get there and we’re unlikely to visit again soon we try to cram in as much of the museum as possible. XX Thank you for playing. This no longer seems reasonable. (See Before, After or Between above.) Instead I wish we’d investigate the one (or two) things we most want to experience at the museum and focus on those once we arrive. Then we’d approach them with an intent (and ability) to linger. Some curator spent countless hours deciding which artifacts to include and what information to present to give context or to frame a subject or an issue. Let’s spend an hour reading them and considering what’s included–and maybe what’s not included. Let’s think about how this fits with what we thought we knew and what we’re still wondering. This kind of a museum visit would likely require a notebook or a conversation partner. I’m loathe to give up on my kids (relative to museums…or anything) so perhaps next time we’re visiting a museum (without a whole gaggle of group members requiring matching shirts) we’ll experiment.

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