Last year, I took my first trip to Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, I was only in town for a short time, so it was impossible to see everything on my (very) long tourist wishlist. Despite the time crunch, I made sure to fit in my number #1 destination: The Smithsonian National Museum of American History. I had two must-sees: Dorothy’s slippers from The Wizard of Oz and Julia Child’s kitchen. Both were as exciting to see in person as I had imagined, though I was surprised (and a little disappointed) that Dorothy’s slippers didn’t have as much sparkle as they do in Technicolor.
I’m sharing this little anecdote because, not only is it positively RIVETING (haha), but it also brings us conveniently to the topic of International Museum Day, celebrated annually on May 18th. We’ve discussed museums a bit in the past–see “A Day at the Museum–” though that was more in the context of our many museum passes available for loan to Levittown Library cardholders. The museum passes are still extremely popular items, and I encourage our patrons to call or stop in if they’re looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends, family, or even a relaxing day on their own. As a matter of fact, it was only last month that I borrowed passes to the Cradle of Aviation Museum, which is currently offering one of the coolest exhibits around: The Arcade Age, a collection of fully-functioning arcade games from the 1970s-1990s, complete with 90 minutes of free play (with the price of museum and exhibit admittance). Thanks to the beauty of the museum passes, my boyfriend and I were able to visit the museum for free and the exhibit for a reduced price. We went in thinking, There’s no way we’re going to play arcade games for an hour and a half. Cut to ninety minutes later, and we’re two of the last people in the room! It was so much fun! And not to brag, but I can totally hold my own when it comes to Ms. Pac-Man.
International Museum Day is really about an appreciation for the cultural and historical benefits of museum collections. Specifically, participating museums from around the world offer special events and activities to mark the occasion. Although only one New York museum is participating (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), there are still plenty of reasons to celebrate museums–all museums, everywhere. Sure, New York has some of the best in the world: the Met, MoMA, The American Museum of Natural History (home of the wondrous, giant, fiberglass Blue Whale), Whitney Museum of American Art, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, The 9/11 Memorial Museum, and so on and so on. And these are just a few of the places that are the most well-known. Time Out New York has a recommended list of New York City’s “most underrated” museums, including the Museum of the Moving Image (a personal favorite), the National Museum of the American Indian, and the City Reliquary Museum. (Be aware that a little extra attention should be paid when considering visits to museums on the list; some digging revealed that the Museum of Biblical Art (MoBiA), featured on the Time Out New York list, actually shut down about a year ago).
On a global level, there are so many amazingly rich cultural experiences to be had in museums. For example, there’s the Musee du Louvre (Paris, home of The Mona Lisa), the National Gallery (London), and the Vasa Museum (Stockholm). I had never heard of the Vasa Museum, but it sounds like a really interesting place; Visitors have the opportunity to view a seventeenth-century ship that sunk but is almost completely intact and preserved. Pretty amazing! For some serious recommendations based on the ratings and reviews of people who have visited them, see the 2015 TripAdvisor list of the Top 25 Museums, including domestic and international locations. If you’re more interested in museums that are off the beaten path, Oyester.com just put together 6 of the Most Underrated Museums in the World, including the American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore), The Tenement Museum (right here in NYC), and Pollack’s Toy Museum (if only London were a short car or train ride away!).
With summer on the horizon, it’s time to start planning our Summer Wish List. Museums make great additions to this list, and are often fun stops during day trips or overnight/weekend getaways. I’ve already set a summer goal for myself: to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, in Amherst, Massachusetts. For anyone looking to get outside of NYC, but can’t go too far, also consider The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia (I’ve heard great things from a coworker who recently visited, though I’m not sure it’s the best environment for small children), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (ranked #1 museum in Boston by Yelp reviewers) or the Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge, Massachusetts), which I visited last year and would recommend as a relaxing and family friendly stop.
The truth is, sometimes museums and libraries both get stuck with the same reputation…the dreaded “B” word: BORING. Well, I challenge you all to visit a museum this spring or summer, and surely you will realize that, just as libraries are fun and exciting spaces for cultural enrichment, so too are museums. They are anything but boring.