Etiquette at Museums

Perhaps a bit intimidating.[Via Wikimedia Commons]

I have a master’s degree in Museum Studies (which is obviously a super useful thing to have a master’s degree in!) so this subject is near and dear to my heart.

One of the things we talked a lot about in my classes was how to make museums more accessible and less intimidating to members of the community who might not be historic museum goers. Part of the reason people find museums intimidating is that there is a belief that there are a ton of rules that you might not know about. That’s not really true. The only real rule is to never touch the art/exhibits unless you are specifically encouraged to touch them. Everything else is more to avoid annoying everyone else:

  • Don’t touch the art. Like I said, this is the big rule. You might not think you are doing any harm, and true, ONE touch isn’t going to do that much. But if everyone disobeys this rule, then you have hundreds or thousands or millions of touches and that all adds up. And oils on your fingers are bad for art even if you think your hands are clean. Besides, many artworks and artifacts are very fragile and you might badly damage them without meaning to.
  • Be quiet, but not totally silent. Museums aren’t libraries and you can definitely talk. Just generally try to keep it on the low side in quieter museums like art and history museums. More kid-oriented spaces like science centers, natural history museums, or especially children’s museums are going to be noisier.
  • Be mindful about taking photos. A lot of museums do allow photos and some are even encouraging people to take photos and use them to engage on social media. But often, especially in travelling exhibitions, photos aren’t allowed. Sometimes this is because flash is detrimental to the materials on display, but often it’s because of copyright restrictions.
  • Don’t hog the art. If you are in a gallery alone, by all means take your time. But if you are in one of those incredibly crowded special exhibitions, take a really good look and then move on. Try not to block the exhibition text either.
  • Don’t eat or drink in exhibition galleries. Many museums have wonderful cafes where you can have a snack in safety.
  • Don’t run. You might bump into the art or other people. Yes, I know it was cool in that one movie.
  • Sketching. Sketching is permitted by many museums, within certain guidelines. Make sure you find out what they allow before you go.
  • Turn off your cellphone. Keep it on vibrate or silent and step out into a hallway or atrium (or a quiet corner?) if you must take a call.
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