More than 850 million people made the trek to an American museum in 2018.
That number is greater than the yearly attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks, combined.
This reveals to us all what wide-eyed kindergartners already know: Museums are fascinating places to visit, as long as you keep your sense of discovery.
Still not convinced that you should shell out your hard-earned cash to look at paintings, replicas and other exhibits?
Today, we’re setting out to change your mind. Here are seven reasons why visiting museums is a great way to spend your time, energy and money this year.
Ready to learn more? Let’s go!
1. They’ve Come a Long Way
A decade or so ago, a riveting museum visit would consist of donning a set of headphones and listening to a monotonous guided tour as you walked around dusty displays.
Today? Museums are more tech-savvy, interactive and hands-on than ever before.
Take the “Pulse” exhibit by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, for instance.
The museum’s most immersive and technologically ambitious exhibit to date, it uses heart-rate sensors to create unique audio/visual experiences for visitors based on their personal biometric data. Those flashing lights, sweeping soundscapes, and ripples around you? That’s your body as art.
You can even visit the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California. Here, you’ll see such exhibits as cyber detectives, reboot reality, social robots and more. Especially for school-aged children learning to embrace technology, it’s an ideal way to make those dreams come to life.
Museums today are also far more interesting, covering themes from UFO research to pizza culture. This list of unusual museums to visit is a great place to start your itinerary.
2. They’re a Feel-Good Diversion
Turn on the morning, afternoon or evening news and it’s easy to feel jaded. With so much negativity at our fingertips, museums offer a chance to play, explore and feel like a kid again.
Americans, specifically the Millennial generation, are favoring experiences over material gifts and museum visiting fits right into this category. This is why trends such as the tiny house craze are still going strong and show no signs of slowing down.
It’s easy to spend an entire day or two at one museum, giving each section your full attention. Do it to recharge and rejuvenate. Then, return with a deeper appreciation of who and where you are. It’s hard to feel cynical when you’re feasting your eyes on incredible artwork and thought-provoking displays.
Looking for a gift that’s meaningful and practical? Give someone a membership to your local museum instead of wrapping up another plastic knick-knack. You’ll grant them the chance to make memories that will last far longer than the latest toy craze ever could.
3. They’re Educational
Of course, this is one of the top reasons that anyone should visit museums. Yet, it’s not what you think.
Yes, you learn a ton when you read the placards and listen to the guide. However, modern educators are leveraging museums less as formal instruction and more as a guide to self-interpretation.
In this way, galleries are becoming classrooms, where there’s no wrong way to interpret an impressionist painting.
Rather than honing in on the object itself, educators are using art, history and natural science exhibits to explain to schoolchildren how those elements connect to their own lives.
They can look at a piece by Monet and see their own love of nature, or gaze at an ancient tool and marvel at how far we’ve come. This makes museums less stuffy and more approachable.
4. They’re the Heart of the Community
One of the most delightful ways to spend an afternoon alone is to wander through the rooms of your favorite museum.
When you’re feeling a little more social, however, it’s also a great place to meet up with friends, discover and support local talent, network with peers and even showcase your own skills.
Need a few examples? There was once a yoga class at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the American Museum of Natural History hosts one-day and three-day workshops for kids on a regular basis.
These buildings are more than homes for valuables. Rather, they’re living parts of a community that are vital to its core and culture.
From the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. to the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles, the country is replete with museums dedicated to shaking up perspectives and stirring a buzz.
From book signings and poetry slams to wine tastings and professional development courses, there’s plenty to see and do. Hop online and check a museum calendar near you to find the next event.
5. They Inspire Change
It’s easy to get caught up in our day job and forget that we’re not alone in this world. We can become so set in our routines that we’re numb to the plight of others around us.
While this applies to adults, it also holds true for children. This is why there are museum installations such as the Compassion Experience Exhibit, which sheds light on the issue of global poverty in a kid-friendly, interactive way that even the littlest minds can understand.
Another highlight is “Evicted.” This new exhibit at Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum reveals what reality is like for the millions of Americans who are evicted every year.
In short, museums offer us the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes and gain a new perspective. We walk away changed, whether we were prepared to be or not.
6. They Support Arts Education
Recently, there has been a push to cut funding allocated for the arts in schools. This is a nationwide change that’s felt everywhere, from Montessori preschools to public high schools.
One of the most prolific programs is the Arts in Education (AIE) program, worth around $40 million. While its long-term future hangs in the balance, other, smaller-scale educational arts programs are still on the chopping block.
Need more reasons to visit a museum? Do it to expose young minds to a level of culture, discovery and creative expression they may not get to experience in the classroom.
They may even aspire to a job in the arts, and your monthly jaunts can be the inspiration for a fulfilling career.
Want a little inspiration on where to go? Check out the 15 best children’s museums in the United States. Bring along your pint-sized pal and spend the day exploring. Learning will be a by-product of the fun!
The best part? Many museums offer on-site restaurants and snack shops. This means you won’t even need to mess with preparing a lunch!
7. They’re Less Expensive Than You Think
According to research, 38% of Americans fail to attend the arts due to a cost barrier. Does this apply to you?
As temperatures begin to warm up, most of us are holding tight to our wallets. After all, we just made it through the winter, where we spent most of our paychecks on firewood, generators for sale, and weighted blankets.
Now, it’s time to buckle up and save and museums can seem like a luxury we can’t afford.
If this is your mindset, it’s time to rethink your idea of museum admission. While there are still plenty that charge an annual membership fee, you’d be surprised at how many free alternatives there are.
Take the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina, for example.
With free general admission and seven floors of interactive exhibit spaces, it’s a playground for all ages. Designated as the largest natural history museum in the southeast U.S., the museum also hosts programs, classes, lectures, movies and more.
Even if your nearby museum doesn’t offer free admission, check to see if there are any “free days” available during the month. Many will offer zero-cost or low-cost evenings for families and early-bird morning specials for parents.
Start Visiting Museums Today
Of all the things to do with your spare time, you may not think of visiting museums as one of your top destinations.
Still, they’re some of the most invigorating and inspiring places to take your entire family. From exhibits that make you think to those that make you laugh, there’s always something new.
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