The Future of Museums

December 6, 2019 • Volume 29, Issue 43
Can they cope with competition and demands for change?
By Vickie Elmer


Museums, built to house objects from history, science or art, are trying to navigate a host of issues ranging from changes in demographics to demands for transparency and social responsibility. Activists want museums to stop accepting funding from producers of fossil fuels, opioids, munitions and cigarettes, return stolen artifacts to their homelands and create more diverse exhibits and staffs. Museum leaders are under pressure to become more agile and to harness the power of technology, social media and celebrity, while also preserving their traditional roles as guardians of history and educators. This pace of change comes amid new competition from online entertainment and for-profit immersive experience companies, some of which call themselves museums. Smaller museums in particular face funding shortfalls and are starting to sell off pieces in their collections, something that was all but forbidden for decades. Climate change, fires and floods are not only topics of exhibits — they increasingly threaten museum collections and buildings.

Visitors line up to enter the National Museum of African American History (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Marvin Joseph)
Visitors line up to enter the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington on its opening day in 2016. During its first year, the museum drew almost 3 million people, many attending a museum for the first time. (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Marvin Joseph)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Historic Preservation
Dec. 06, 2019  The Future of Museums
Jul. 05, 2019  Historic Preservation
Oct. 07, 1994  Historic Preservation
Feb. 10, 1984  Historic Preservation
Oct. 04, 1972  Historic Preservation
Arts and Humanities
Consumer Behavior
General Social Trends
Historic Preservation
Imperialism, Colonization, and Independence Movements
International Law and Agreements
Regulation and Deregulation
Travel and Tourism