International Museums Day – May 18

May 18th, International Museum Day, celebrates the changing role museums play in the development of society. Museums started as cabinets of curiosities. In the Renaissance, collection cabinets were a way of managing and increasing knowledge. Before the late 18th century, collections were not intended for the general public, but for the gentlemanly scholar. In 1786, around the public’s fascination with mastodon bones, the Peale Museum in the U.S. was established as one of the first public museums. In 1841, P.T Barnum blended artifacts and materials from around the world for his museum; his intent was to create a personal experience of exoticism and wonder. After a fire in his building, Barnum took his museum on the road. Following the French revolution, many private collections became public and sites for civic education. Exhibitions moved out of museums into grand displays such as the Great International Exposition of 1851, held at the Crystal Palace in London. There was a flourishing of museums partnering with government to participate in education of the new mass public. As the 19th century started, wealthy patrons of new American commercial centres cultivated great art museums and civic pride. These museums were less dependent on admission revenues and more dependent on their sponsors, focusing on collecting, the study of the collection, and the growing professionalization of staff, not on the paying public. There was dramatic growth museum numbers in the 20th century, and they became filled with local community treasures. In the 1960s and 70s, North American museums discovered ‘blockbusters’ such as DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, or the King Tut exhibition with record-breaking attendance. Today’s museums are in the public’s service, responding to what they see and hear in their community. They preserve and share the heritage of humanity for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. This International Museums Day, why not plan a visit to your local museum. If you haven’t had a chance to see the “Arts of China: Glimpses of an Ancient Civiliation” exhibit at the Galt, on loan from the Royal Ontario Museum, please note the final day is Victoria Day, May 19. For more information, visit