Casablanca - In a previous article “Moroccans’ Reluctance to Visit Museums,” I essentially attempted to present explanations of why some Moroccans show little or no interest for museums. In that article, I extracted my conclusions from the analysis of a survey that was conducted in both the Faculty of Letters and Humanities of Ben M’sik, and in Ben M’sik neighborhood, in Casablanca.
Casablanca – In a previous article “Moroccans’ Reluctance to Visit Museums,” I essentially attempted to present explanations of why some Moroccans show little or no interest for museums. In that article, I extracted my conclusions from the analysis of a survey that was conducted in both the Faculty of Letters and Humanities of Ben M’sik, and in Ben M’sik neighborhood, in Casablanca.
One of the main reasons I previously discussed is that Moroccan media does not significantly encourage Moroccans to visit museums, nor does it make serious endeavors to stimulate their interest for those institutions.
Another major reason behind Moroccans’ reluctance to visit museums is the scarcity, if not absence, of didactic activities and initiatives which would raise awareness about the importance of those institutions.
All of those discouraging factors, amongst others, have a significant hand in the negligence from which some museums in Morocco suffer.
Obviously, this sad reality is not unique to Morocco; even developed nations still strive to captivate the attention of their citizens to the immense importance of museums. However, a great portion of those nations’ populations show incomparable interest for museums, and the reason is that they are aware of the central roles they play in society.
This article comes, therefore, as a humble attempt to answer two fundamental questions about museums: (1) What are they? and (2) Why do they matter? Answering those questions would help us realize the key roles museums play in society, both explicitly and implicitly.
1- Museums: What are They?
Definitions of museums have noticeably changed over the years. Each definition mirrors peoples’ perception of those institutions, what they are or are not, their mission and, sometimes, how they function.
In 1946, the prevailing definition of museums was:
“…all collections open to the public, of artistic, technical, scientific, historical or archaeological material, including zoos and botanical gardens, but excluding libraries, except in so far as they maintain permanent exhibition rooms.”
The definition above clearly demonstrates the very narrow angle from which museums’ mission was perceived over the past years. The main concern was exhibiting collections of artifacts and materials of a particular value to visitors.
According to the definition above, for an institution to be labeled a museum, it needs “to maintain permanent exhibition rooms.” Thus, as already explained, museums were mainly exhibition-centered. They were essentially valued for the rareness and historical value of their collections and artifacts. In more practical terms, it is what was in the museum that used to matter most.
Undeniably, a museum’s sustainability relies heavily on the quality of its collections and the museum’s efforts to update and preserve that collection. Needless to say, visitors are vital to a museum’s durability. Nevertheless, today, a museum is more than that. The International Council of Museums’ current definition of a museum is:
“a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment.”
Noticeably, a museum is now more than a space where collected artifacts of a particular value are openly exhibited to the public. A museum now, accordingly, is in the service of society. That is, museums are now more open to their surroundings, rather than self-centered and bracketed by their own walls. Education also figures in the definition. Museums recognize their fundamental goal today, which is to educate. The definition is also more inclusive in regard to visitors, as it does not dismiss enjoyment from museums’ services. Therefore, kids also have their place in museums.
2-Museums: Why Do They Matter?
a) Museums as Educational Institutions
As already cited above, museums are excellent educational institutions. Whether a museum focuses on its exhibited collections and indoor activities, or on its outreaches and external activities, in all cases, it serves a didactic purpose.
Those who visit a certain museum, either for entertainment, to conduct research or to learn more about a certain field that relates to the museum’s central theme are all, consciously and unconsciously, exposed to didactic data, be it informative labels, videos, brochures, conversations with museum officials and educators, etc.
A museum provides its visitors with learning experiences, amongst other forms of experiences—aesthetic, inspirational, recreational, interactive, etc. According to the American Association of Museums (AAM), “museums exist on a permanent basis for essentially aesthetic and education purposes…”. That is why a museum is deemed an educational institution by nature.
Besides the learning that takes place inside a museum, they carry out educational outreaches to other institutions outside its realm, such as associations, schools and universities, theaters, hospitals, etc. This is in fact what distinguishes museums from the other educational institutions, which focus solely on indoor educational programs and activities and stick to their assigned educational schedule.
b) Museums and Social Responsibility
In addition to being educational, museums are also social institutions. The idea that museums should serve a social purpose is, however, not a novel concept, for it has its roots in the “cabinets of curiosities”—deemed the very first forms of museums—that were developed by the gentry during the Age of Discovery (fourteenth to sixteenth centuries) and those collections that were owned by the state were often used for larger, ideological purposes.
Maintaining an effective educational methodology that benefits visitors is in itself a social goal that museums strive to reach. Museums engage in dialogues with their community representatives and invite them to benefit from their services. Museums contribute to the ongoing evolution of their societies by inspiring their visitors to think, act and be in the service of their society.
Visiting the American Museum of National History (one of the Smithsonian’s most preeminent cultural institutions), which is located in Washington D.C., for example, would undoubtedly engage an American citizen into a motivational and inspirational nostalgic experience, in which this citizen would both celebrate the greatness of his/her nation’s history and, more importantly, aspire to serve it more than ever before.
Museums should be valued beyond their exhibited collections. Just as any other governmental or non-governmental institution strives to serve its country, museums are no exception. The educational and social responsibilities they carry are greater than one could ever imagine. This is why I invite Moroccans to care more for museums and value them as they do with other institutions, for they also work for the welfare and development of their societies.
 (International Council of Museums, ICOM).
 (International Council of Museums, ICOM).
 Kotler, Neil G, Philip Kotler, Wendy I. Kotler, and Neil G. Kotler. Museum Marketing and Strategy: Designing Missions, Building Audiences, Generating Revenue and Resources. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Print.
 American Association of Museums (AAM)
 Janes, Robert R, and Gerald T. Conaty. Looking Reality in the Eye: Museums and Social Responsibility. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005. Print.
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