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Dear non-museum person


We, and probably other museum staff members, love when you come visit the organizations we dedicate our lives to. It is a joy to talk to our friends and family about what we do; however, there are a few things we’d like you to know, a few misconceptions we’d like to correct, a couple of things we want you to realize.

Here are eight of them:

  1. We aren’t funded solely through admission proceeds. They contribute a small amount to our operating budget. How museums afford to keep their doors open is varied and sometimes complex. There are grants, donors, government contributions, as well as endowments involved.

  2. We have more items in our collection than those that are on display. Often a lot more. At some museums, you wouldn’t believe how much stuff is in storage.

  3. Not everyone who works at a museum sells tickets, stands in the gallery, or is the director; there is a whole range of us. From volunteer managers to traveling exhibit coordinators, a lot of things get done by staff members visitors don’t see or think about.

  4. The field is competitive and often low paying. Moving up the ranks is difficult. We know it can be confusing why we don’t switch fields. We understand there is more money to be made elsewhere. Please don’t tell us “at least wait staff earn tips”.

  5. There is a whole process to accept something into a museum’s collection. It involves legal paperwork, the commitment to care for it in perpetuity, and examining whether it meets the mission of the museum. Please don’t leave things at the back door.

  6. Museums have missions larger than showing people expensive or rare stuff. They involve community service, research, and, in the best circumstances, social justice.

  7. People trust museums. It’s socially important what we talk about, what we don’t talk about, and how we talk about things. And it’s often very complicated. It can be extremely stressful for museums trying to do right by all the communities they wish to serve.

  8. There really are reasons why you can’t touch things. No, we can’t make an exception just for you. So, please don’t ask us.

We love and appreciate the visits and support you give your favorite museums and their staff. It is for this endearment that we have written this little letter to you. Things take time, effort, money, countless hours of dedication, patience, and continued protection and care to bring you the things you see. We hope this helps you understand how deep that appreciation for you goes -- because we wouldn’t do any of this without you. We want you to have an even greater understanding of what you are seeing.


Gallery Talk

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