Museums in the Modern World
Museums have changed. They are no longer places for the privileged few or for bored vacationers to visit on rainy days. Action and democracy are words used in descriptions of museums now.
At a science museum in Ontario, Canada, you can feel your hair stand on end as harmless electricity passes through your body. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, you can look at 17th century instruments while listening to their music. At the Modern Museum in Sweden, you can put on costumes provided by the Stockholm Opera. As these examples show, museums are reaching out to new audiences, particularly the young, the poor, and the less educated members of the population. As a result, attendance is increasing.
More and more, museums directors are realizing that people learn best when they can somehow become part of what they are seeing. In many science museums, for example, there are no guided tours. The visitor is encouraged to touch, listen, operate, and experiment so as to discover scientific principles for himself. He can have the experience of operating a spaceship or a computer. He can experiment with glass blowing and paper making. The purpose is not only to provide fun but also to help people feel at home in the world of science. The theory is that people who do not understand science will probably fear it, and those who fear science will not use it to best advantage. Many museums now provide educational services and children s departments. In addition to the usual displays, they also offer film showings and dance programs. Instead of being places that one "should" visit, they are places to enjoy.
One cause of all these changes is the increase in wealth and leisure time. Another cause is the rising percentage of young people in the population. Many of these young people are college students or college graduates. They are better educated than their parents. They see things in a new and different