Today is Museum Advocacy Day in the United States. We are pleased that Patricia Harris, a student in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at theUniversity of Memphis and a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is in Washington D.C. today as part of a delegation of six Tennesseans meeting with our state’s elected officials as part of the advocacy activities organized by the American Alliance of Museums. The Alliance also has suggestions for actions you can take locally.
Below is an essay written by Patricia on the importance of museums to our culture.
Museums vital to economy, education
by Patricia Harris
Defining an American museum is not as easy as you might think. Some may respond to this challenge with definitions such as: a refuge for relaxation and renewal; a sanctuary for learning; or, in an increasingly digitized world, one of the last strongholds of authenticity.
But here’s one definition of U.S. museums you might not have thought of: economic engines. Just as American museums of all types – from art museums to zoos and everything in between – are essential elements in our educational infrastructure, museums are also vital cogs in the economy nationally, regionally and locally. But don’t take my word for it.
The American Alliance of Museums notes that in direct expenditures alone, U.S. museums inject some $20 billion into the economy, and employ nearly half a million Americans. Museums and other cultural organizations attract businesses to communities large and small. Museums are also key drivers of cultural tourism, and studies by the U.S. Travel Association found that cultural tourists stay 53 percent longer and spend 36 percent more than non-cultural tourists.
Right here in Memphis, Tennessee there are more than 60 tourist attractions, a number of those cultural heritage sites. More than 4 million visitors go to Beale Street Historic District, making it the most visited attraction in Tennessee. In 2010, over 2 million people visited tourist destinations in Memphis and Shelby County. For every visitor that stayed, ate, visited, and shopped, revenue was generated back into the Memphis economy.
But as substantial as is the impact of museums on jobs and local economies, the contribution of museums goes much farther. As state and local government budgets are continually stretched thin, many museums are taking up the slack, filling voids in our social and community fabric. Certainly museums are critical tools for the estimated two million homeschooled children in the U.S.
Art museums have created programs for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, enabling them to enjoy the benefits of engaging with our artistic treasures. Other museums have led the way in working with children on the autism spectrum, providing a safe, comfortable day out for the children and their parents. Visionary children’s museums have become sanctuaries for families caught up in the juvenile justice system. Museums have served to bridge cultural and ethnic divides in communities, from bringing recent immigrants together to meld their old traditions with those of their new homes, to offering English as a Second Language courses. Many museums have led efforts to help our citizens upgrade their job skills through computer training courses.
Here in Memphis, the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa provides participatory and hands-on activities for school children and community members alike. At a time in our city when the state of our education system weighs heavily on the minds of parents and city councils, we must not forget the importance of the informal educational experience that museums can provide. Chucalissa alone serves many thousands of students a year with over 100 local schools participating in field trips. Through visits to museums such as Chucalissa, children can participate in programs that are designed to meet curriculum standards while at the same time provide meaningful and lifelong learning experiences.
A key part of the mission of museums is public service, and we are constantly enhancing and expanding that service to our local communities. And the public has shown its appreciation via the estimated 850 million visits to U.S. museums annually – more than the attendance at all major league sporting events combined. All we ask in return is that the public let their elected officials know how much they appreciate their local museums, as economic drivers, as educational pillars, and as community assets.
Museum Advocacy Day on February 26 is hosted by the American Alliance of Museums. Along with other museum representatives from across the country, I will meet with members of congress to make the case on Capitol Hill for federal support of America’s museums.
Patricia Harris is a student in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.