What’s in a Museum Name?


During my first round of Weekly Museum Visits, one theme I kept revisiting – and question that kept needling me as I planned my visits – was What counts as a museum? This question will definitely resurface as I embark on another series of WMVs.

Not every museum has a helpful inclusion of museum in its name. Consider the Freer and Sackler Galleries, National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery, and Corcoran Gallery of Art. They are all museums, but of course, many entities called galleries are small commercial art galleries and not museums. (I would argue, though, that the museum/gallery distinction is gradually blurring.)

The museums I visited during my 31 weeks of WMVs used the following terms to designate what they were:

  • Arboretum
  • Archives
  • Cemetery
  • Center (arts center, heritage center, history center)
  • Church
  • Collection
  • Estate
  • Garden(s) (also aquatic gardens, botanic gardens)
  • Historic site
  • House
  • Library
  • Memorial
  • Mission
  • Museum
  • Park (or national park)
  • Sphere (as in Artisphere)
  • Synagogue (or historic synagogue)
  • Zoo

I made a word cloud of the 40 museum names, using all the terms in the most official name I could find for each institution.

Words in the names of museums I visited

Another round of Weekly Museum Visits begins now (or in the next few days, when I next visit a museum). The mission remains the same as before: every week, go to a museum I have not visited before. Spend time there, look around, learn things, pick up a brochure, take pictures, blog about the experience. Repeat the following week, and the week after that, until a full-time job comes along.

What other words can you think of that appear in museum names, along with museum, gallery, park, house, etc.? Post a comment and perhaps we can get a long list going.

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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2 Responses to What’s in a Museum Name?

  1. Allison Wickens says:

    I was going to point out the “Experience Music Project” in Seattle, but I just went to their website and apparently they are called the “Experience Music Project Museum!” I don’t think it always was that way, I”m wondering if they added Museum at some point to clarify the visit experience.

  2. disciullo says:

    I noticed that some historic buildings that serve(d) as one function and then became a museum have names like Gadsby’s Tavern Museum (a tavern and a museum) and Ford’s Theatre Museum (a theater and a museum). “Experience Music Project Museum” doesn’t seem to fit that pattern, though. Thanks for thinking of and checking on it!

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