Life etiquette: tips for a memorable trip to the museum

A visitor at MAAHMG

Life Etiquette, it’s all about respect for ourselves, others and the world around us.

In my last column, I focused on theater etiquette. I shared guidelines and codes of conduct when attending live theater. Thank you for your comments and your suggestions for future topics. 

Keeping with the “arts” theme, I’d like to share with you museum etiquette tips. 

What is a museum and why do we have them? What purposes do they serve? I’m so glad you asked. Museums have changed from places of collecting, preserving and exhibiting art, to places of sharing and learning. Often representative of the people and culture that created and established them, the variety of museum experiences are wide and diverse.

Before you go, I’d like to share some things you should be mindful of in order to have an enjoyable and memorable museum experience. In my quest to put together these tips for you, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting with two local museum officers: Alexander (Alex) Legeros, development officer with the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA) and Coventry Royster Cowens, interim operations coordinator of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery (MAAHMG).

Each museum had its own flavor, a richness that reflects the heritage and culture that each represents. Prior to my meeting with Cowens and Legeros, I had visited neither museum. Both gave me a personal tour of their respective museums and galleries.

Naturally, as an African American person, I was particularly interested in the MAAHMG. In just a few moments, I was enlightened by the inspiring stories of African Americans such as Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (November 26, 1878 – June 21, 1932), the first African American world champion cyclist. I also learned more about African American history in the Twin Cities than I’d previously known. I will be going back and taking others with me.

My visit to TMORA was just as fruitful. I’ve driven by the museum many times as it sits right at the corner of I-35W and Diamond Lake Road in Minneapolis—a beautiful building with a rich and fascinating history.

Legeros shared fascinating history about Russia and Russian art. Did you know that TMORA is the only major institution in North America devoted entirely to Russian art and culture from the entire scope of Russia’s history?

Throughout my tour of each museum, both Cowens and Legeros shared their wisdom and thoughts on museum etiquette—the appropriate behavior for visiting a museum. 

The main thing that I discovered is that their “patrons-need-to-know” information was much the same. Of course, each point below can always be expanded to include more details, but for this column, here are some guidelines for respecting the art, respecting the museum venue and respecting other patrons/visitors. 

Steve Floyd/MSR Coventry Cowens, interim operations coordinator at MAAHMG

Before you go

  • Learn about the museum venue, the exhibit and artist(s).
  • Find out the exhibit schedule so that you do not miss out. Museums may have somewhat permanent exhibits, others run for a limited time.
  • Determine what you are interested in so that you can make good use of your time and energy. Some museums are so large that they cannot be covered in one visit.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear comfortable shoes, as you are likely to be walking quite a bit.
  • Plan a timely arrival, especially if you want to take part in a guided tour.
  • Come prepared as there may be a charge for entering the museum and/or for coat-check. Tips may be accepted for coat-check.

Upon entering the museum

  • Use your inside voice. Excessive noise and chatter can be distracting and disturbing to other patrons thereby taking away from their museum experience.
  • Be prepared to turn off cell phones and recording devices. Museum staff will let you know if photos are permitted.
  • Be attentive to warning signs such as “do not touch.” The art itself, as well as its value, may be diminished by oils and stains, cracking or other damage when touched directly with one’s hands.
  • Manage your body space: Walk, don’t run. I’ve heard horror stories about people running into and knocking over art! Oops!
  • Generally, eating and drinking are not allowed in the exhibit area. Crumbs and stains from food or drink can damage or ruin an art piece.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Sneezing and coughing can release body fluids that can damage art and artifacts. Who knew?

Tips for viewing the art

There is really no right or wrong way to view an art piece. One should, however, show appreciation for the artists’ work and the art form.

  • Take your time. As Cowens so passionately said, “Let it soak in.”
  • Think, ponder, reflect. In the words of Legeros, “Reflect on it like a constellation; be amazed by its wonder.”
  • Look for the stories behind the artist and the artwork.
  • Show appreciation for the artist and the work that the artist put into the piece. It may have taken an artist months or even years to complete the piece.
  • Have your eyes open for the cultural or historical significance in the art piece.
  • If you have questions about the museum, the art or the artist, museums have docents to help you. A museum docent is a person who leads tours and often serves to educate patrons.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Both Legeros and Cowens said that museums are most often visited by out-of-towners. In fact, out-of-town guests account for over 60% of museum visits.

After the experience

If you enjoyed the experience, let the staff know and encourage others to visit. Some museums charge a fee for entry; however, nearly 40% of museums are free.

Many public and government-sponsored museums are free to the public but do accept donations. Consider giving a donation to support the museum’s effort to preserve our human history.

Arrow through below for a few museum/exhibit ideas.

2 Comments on “Life etiquette: tips for a memorable trip to the museum”

  1. What I love about the TMORA is that I feel I can enjoy and digest each piece of art without feeling rushed or getting tired of moving from space to space. One can accomplish a relaxing tour of the whole facility without having to spend a whole day doing so. The gift shop is also a treasure of beautiful things that are available for purchase. We are lucky to have this unique collection of Russian art here in Minneapolis. Rita A. Juhl

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