Museum Superlatives


Whenever I describe Weekly Museum Visits, people ask, “Which was your favorite?” which is exactly the same question I would immediately think to ask if I were in their place. Not that it’s an easy question to answer, however.

Of the 40 sites I visited in the first round, between July 2010 and March 2011, I cannot say that one was my favorite above all the others. But to at least attempt to answer the question, I’ve thought about the museums that stand out in one way or another, and why.

Best Tour: Frederick Douglass House. The tour guide was informative and engaging, and he made it a conversation, not a monologue.

Most Interesting Permanent Exhibit: Ford’s Theatre. So many facets of Abraham Lincoln’s life and death, and the events of his time, are explored here.

Most Interesting Temporary Exhibit: Folger Shakespeare Library. The exhibit Lost at SeaThe Ocean in the English Imagination, 1550-1750 addressed the tension in how a culture conceptualized the sea: on the one hand, something to be navigated and charted and utilized, and on the other hand, a great mystery laden with supernatural and religious meanings.

Best Public Program: Hillwood’s Gay Day, a festive event that allowed visitors to see the historic house and gardens as well as celebrate social progress today.

Favorite Work of Art: The Watts Towers, in their glorious entirety. Someday, I must visit again and take a tour and completely immerse myself in the art environment.

Best Museum Education Experience on the Subject of Museum Education: The winner of this meta category is the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where a special activity for Emerging Museum Professionals taught us all about visual thinking strategies.

Most Moving: Many museums were moving, but Arlington National Cemetery is the winner here.

Most Pleasantly Surprising: National Museum of Health and Medicine. What I’d heard about it beforehand mostly involved a hairball collection and people asking, “Oh, don’t they have [insert whatever grotesque curiosity here]?” There was some of that, but it was also the site of exhibits on the history of microscopes, the care given to wounded warriors, and art inspired by the loss of limbs in war. It was, most memorably, a place to reflect on the sacrifices our troops make.

Best Places for Photographers: American University Museum, Cylburn Arboretum, and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

American University Museum

Best Place to Learn about Meditation: The Meditation Museum, of course! However…

Best Place to Practice Meditation: For me, Brookside Gardens, with its labyrinth.

What museum would you place in these categories, and what other categories would you consider?

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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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