Museum visitors have rights.

Museums are storage lockers without visitors. And, visitors have certain rights.


Visitors have:

The right to wander at will,

The right to feel smart,

And the right to demand NOT to be made to feel stupid.


They have the right to spend hours

or look at ONE thing and leave.


They have the right to be near the art, to touch the interactive, to look really close at the butterfly wing—when those collection objects are under glass.

When they are not under glass, they have the right to look pretty close at collection objects. Remember, museums are inviting them in. Trust them!


They have the right to go “backward” in exhibitions (as long as they don’t impinge on the rights of other visitors).

They have the right to miss the tour.

They have the right to take the tour and walk away, just because.

They have the right to share their feelings about the tour.


They have the right to disagree, to not care, or to agree.


They have the right to hate what we have on the walls.


They have the right to just listen, to ask, to share, to question.

Again, they have the right to question.

They have the right to ask and question when their story isn’t included.

They have the right to notice when museums are doing it wrong.


They have the right to see the museum space as a place to relax,

to learn,

to walk when it’s cold outside,

to meet a friend and to go for a drink,

to go for a drink,

to meet a date,

to avoid a date,

to get a bite to eat,

to hear a concert,

to find a quiet place to relax,

to read a book,

to ignore all the museum’s darn labels,

to listen to EVERY stop on the audiotour,

to learn about stuff they forgot from school,

to bring their kids,

to feel,

to run from kids.


They have the right to not be followed, to not be started at, to not be questioned by guards.

They have the right to feel trusted.

For more on trust in museums, see my blog post, Trust the Revolution, which includes my MuseumNext talk by the same name or watch the video below:

Trust the Revolution from MuseumNext on Vimeo.

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4 thoughts on “Bill of Rights for Museum Visitors

  • October 21, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Do you have an issue with trusting museum guards? We will follow school groups for the safety of the artwork.

    • October 22, 2017 at 9:41 pm

      Deanna, I didn’t mention the Cleveland Museum of Art. As, my previous employer, and current museum, I want to make sure that I refute your intimation that I was speaking of the guards from the CMA. I agree that I worked with wonderful staff there over the years. But field-wide many, many people from art museums across the country have talked about the challenges that patrons have in our galleries (nationally). Many institutions, including Columbus and the Broad, have tried to handle this challenge head-on, by increased visitor-experience training and changes to the dress-code to help make our visitors comfortable. Also, I didn’t mention school groups specifically as the ones who were being followed. I will also disagree with you wholeheartedly that students are the most likely to touch the art. As the director of the Gardner mentioned, school students are the least likely to touch art as they are with numerous adults. Now, when I was at the CMA, I don’t believe it was the policy to follow students. I think you were to stay within your zone. The difference is important. When you protect the art in the zone, then you have a finite focus. When you instead pick out a certain group, be they young students or whatever group, you would be susceptible to bias. From my knowledge of the CMA, I am guessing that you misspoke to point out that the CMA staff follow students. And, instead, you’re just standing up for your colleagues. Again, I too believe in them. But, as I called out all sectors in museums, including educators and curators, I think everyone can do better. Thank you for your comment.

  • October 22, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Spreading populism in museums or any academic environment is very similar to spreading populism in politics. Museums are not storage lockers without visitors, that’s a poorly informed opinion. ART museums in particular need to preserve collections for future visitors just as much as they need to for the present day visitor. In an age where Trump is trying to de-fund the arts in general – not just museums- this is what you take a stand on? Why not place your energies where they will do more for the arts in our society?

    • October 22, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Rebecca, thank you for your comment. Having spent nearly twenty years in museums, I find empty galleries to be one of the most deafening sounds ever. I have been in jobs where our collections are in storage. The work of the museum was much impaired and the disconnection with the community was palpable. Now, that was a temporary situation due to construction. But, it certainly made me aware that preservation is not enough to make museum viable. That said, making collections accessible is not in any way suggesting that you should stop preserving them. In fact, quite to the contrary. Numerous historical precedents show that when objects are hidden from sight they go into disrepair. One that comes to mind is certain Buddhist objects in remote monasteries that become deeply degraded and compromised by insects. Ensuring visitors come to museums is the best way to keep museums alive and subsequently maintain funds for preservation. And, while I will agree with your assertion that preservation is important, I will happily stand accused of being a populist. A true populist, like a little d- democrat, believes in sharing with people. And, yes, I am very happy to take a stand on making sure museums are visitor-centered so that more people come. After all, when arts funding is scarce, making them more accessible and friendly will make them less likely of losing funding. So, yes, this is exactly the stand I believe will make museums get more funding. (Also note, I didn’t say just art museums. They are generally better funded than other museums). Now, it seems interesting that you would see including people as negative. Museums already have declining attendance, and that it something that I strongly hope to change. Making the spaces more welcoming is the easiest way to change that. Finally, I don’t believe academics cannot be populists. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not an idiot and is an academic and a populist. What he is not is a snob. And, that is what all museums should be. People won’t come if we make things up, certainly, and that is against our fiber, but they won’t come if we don’t connect to them. While some museums are already doing this, the ideal museum can make academic ideas accessible. I feel the populism of PBS or NPR is commendable, for example. Both those broadcast channels work to meet their audiences. They spend REAL energy and time really thinking about their listeners. As I said, some museums do this. But, as a field, we need to do much better at making smart interesting.


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