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Big Questions

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This week I received an email from a start up museum with four questions:

What does it take to make a great museum?
What makes a museum popular?
Why are museums successful?
What are the best story lines?

At first I thought there is no way to answer such big questions.   Yet, I am reading Guns, Germs and Steel, The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond.  The question posed in the book is much bigger “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own”, an even bigger question than the museum posed to me.

My take:

What does it take to make a great museum?
My favorite museums are the the ones that are unique, offering something I can’t see or experience anyplace else.  Whether that is an amazing collection of Art, unusual museum architecture, or unique exhibits.

What makes a museum popular?

Being a destination, offering something that is of value that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

Why are museums successful?
Several surveys rank museums as the most trusted source of information, often being a valued source of content is the driving force in making the museum successful.

What are the best story lines?

Yours!  If you don’t have a good story to tell you shouldn’t build the museum.  All great museums have a great “elevator pitch”, if I asked you to describe the Exploratorium most people would say “A huge building with science exhibits built there in the workshop by artists”, the “elevator pitch” is accurate and is the message delivered.

About Mark Walhimer

Mark is Managing Partner of Museum Planning, LLC, a museum planning and exhibition project management firm of interactive educational environments for Science Centers, Children's Museums and Natural History Museums. You can reach Mark at

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