The Art of Appreciating our Museums

Who remembers the two big heritage disasters that happened in 2018 and 2019, respectively? First, there was a huge fire at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Second, there was another devastating fire at the Notre Dame gothic cathedral in Paris. Everyone was saddened to hear about these thing happening, but do we really have that art of appreciating our museums?

Last week, I assisted to a zoom call about entrepreneurship. More specifically, it was about creative and cultural business not any other kind. However, the conclusion was that for the most, the importance of money somehow eclipses any art of appreciating anything, including museums.

Now, in the times of pandemics and measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, museums were among the first places to close. Often it happened before any restrictions on events such as press conferences and even weddings. I have a feeling that it happens because it is so easy and gives politicians an impression that they are “doing something”. As we know, politicians’ biggest concern is to get votes, so they need to do whatever is easier for them.

How much do we appreciate our heritage and museums?

There is a common belief that people who are successful, either as political leaders, corporate managers, recognised scientists “deserve” a lavish lifestyle. That being said, they are entitled to plentiful budgets for their own luxuries, such as apartments of their choice, cars of their choice, maintenance for their goods, and even dinners at restaurants with “important” guests. Of course, it all comes as an addition to their pretty comfortable salaries.

In fact, the budget for washing cars of the members of the lower house of Brazilian Parliament was roughly the same as the yearly budget for the National Museum over the few years before that tragic fire. While some people will criticise the overspending among the top leaders, many of them will also not give up easily on some of their own commodities. In the same vein, many will say they “would take it if they could”, talking about these privileges from the leaders.

The Art of Appreciating our Museums
Emotional scenes in that tragic September night in Rio de Janeiro.
Photo by Francisco Prones Ramos for New Yorker (link is in the bottom of the article)

After all, it is not something we can change, and I am just a museum writer and artist, not a revolutionary.

Lockdown, museums, and “safety”

Further, I don’t pretend I have a clear opinion about any anti-epidemic measure we have seen all over the past year. Many things are unclear, as the scientific research was neglected for years, and the common sense is in decline. Again, politicians try to do what is the easiest for them, and not what is the best solution.

The art of appreciating our museums
Closed? Photo by Lisa Bresler on Unsplash

Museums around the world lost an incredible amount of income due to travel restrictions. Meanwhile, many museum professionals made huge efforts in the digital tools. Even those workers who lost their jobs and projects made efforts. Many of them, including me, started new things for free without hearing a lot of “thank you” in turn.

However, in many countries museums are treated as the risky infection spreading places that need to remain close. There are even some obscure ideas that museums have to remain closed if it is not safe to have big events inside. While I have always defended dynamic and interactive museums, I have to say that opinion is a weak one. We need to do something, just something, without expecting things to be perfect.

After all, museums are among the safest places to go. Due to many mental health concerns, saying “stay home” for extended periods of time has proved counterproductive. On the other hand, people should not interact too much before it is safe to do. What should they do then? Some activities to do alone or with maybe one friend, such as visiting museums could be a good idea for a start.

The art of appreciating our museums
Our writer Emina with a friend at the MEMO Museum

Read also: Museums are reopening. Here is why they ARE essential.

The Art of appreciating our museums and heritage with emotions

Now, as the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) made a huge amount fo researches about museum activities through 2020, we have quite a lot of valuable data. One document that attracted my special attention is the report about emotions in museums. The stories I just told triggered many emotions.

Let’s put into perspective. Many people have visited Paris at some point, getting there from different sides of the world. Most of them visited Notre Dame and admired the incredible gothic architecture. After that, they took pictures and felt happy for visiting an “important” city and building. Subsequently, when the disastrous fire happened, many were crying. During the last year, many felt disappointed to see their trips (many of them to France and Paris) cancelled. In this paragraph, I presented several emotions: excitement, happiness, curiosity, sadness, and disappointment.

That myriad of emotions is what museums offer in all the ways. From awareness about a museum, to the visit, and then memories, museums offer a king of a circle of emotions. We already have them, but we just need to be more aware of them. After that, we need to leverage them.

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga - Visit a Museum
Although it is the largest museum in Portugal, the MNAA is not on must-visit lists, mostly became it doesn’t have any hype potential and is far from usual routes. Last time I was there in 2017, I enjoyed seeing many locals there.

Local and sustainable travel

Finally, the art of appreciating our museums needs to extend to all the museums we have around us. In some recent conversations about the travel reset, we often addressed the need for more appreciation of the local heritage. That is to say, while we all love the idea of visiting the “must-visit” places such as Notre Dame and Paris in general, nurturing nice emotions about some smaller places and places closer to our home may also feel great.

My 2018 article about emotions in museums is a simple opinion article based on a chat I had on Twitter back then. Now it gains a new dimension, as the Fun Museums community supports the local and sustainable travel. Our writer Emina visits museums across Istria region, in Croatia, the places around her home. Meanwhile, Chiara does the same on Sicily.

Above all, the Art of appreciating our museums starts at home, and goes to the world.

Nordic Walking on Sicily as an example of local heritage travel

Read also: Zagreb earthquake and museums

Some sources:

A Museum Fire, comment by Jon Lee Anderson for the New Yorker, published on September 13, 2018, retrieved on February 22, 2021

NEMO report on Emotions and Learning in Museums (pdf), retrieved on February 23, 2021

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