As a follow up to the post “Museums are Hospitality” I created a thread on the American Association of Museum’s Linkedin thread “What is the Business of Museums?“. I suggested that “Museums are in the “hospitality” business, not the education business”. The response has been great. Although, Many people felt that I didn’t understand the business of museums or that it was “sacrilege” to say that museums are in the “Hospitality” business. The longer the discussion continued, the more convinced I became that museums are in the “Hospitality” business, but now for different reasons. The responses got me thinking about a “core” business of museums that is an intangible, that I will call “connecting with the muses“.
Museums grew out of Cabinets of Curiosities, a way for the wealthy to collect and organize the objects of their travels and education, you could think of Cabinets of Curiosities as a way for the rich to show off to guests. There are many different types of hosts; humble hosts, conceited hosts, fun hosts, etc.. As museum professionals we are acting as the host of our museum and we dictate the type of experience for the visitor.
Last week I was in Union Square in San Francisco and walked into the St. Francis Hotel to use the bathroom. As soon as I walked in, I buttoned my jacket, looked in the mirror to check my hair, stood straighter. I wanted to become worthy of the “attitude” of the St. Francis, even if only to use the bathroom. My reasons, were because of the style, elegance and expense of the hotel. Museums “ask” visitors to be better people, to reach their full potential. The reasons for me straightening my hair at the St. Francis are different then the reasons that I straighten my hair at the Museum of Modern Art, but the impact on me is the same, I want to be a better person. Creating an atmosphere of potential is a part of hospitality, “what can be”, “who can we become”, to nurture the spirit in each of us to be a better person. “Hospitality” is not pandering, it is elevating an experience. Museums are “serving” their communities by asking them to be better people, not giving them what they “want”. We all want to be better people, but sometimes we need to be reminded to reach and that is the role of a museum, to remind us of our potential, what is possible and what has been accomplished.
I don’t believe any amount of market research or marketing would support, building the Cy Twombly Gallery. But there it sits, one of the best museum experiences ever. The de Menil family had faith that building such a place would enrichen the lives of visitors. I felt as if, I was welcomed into the home of the de Menil’s and they shared with me their passion for the work of Cy Twombly. The de Menils are wonderful hosts.
This is a very personal list, some of my favorite places to “connect with the muses”