Many people are ready to venture out and explore the world again. A recent study at the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) in Germany has determined that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is far lower in museums and theaters than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices, or public transportation. Since today is Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day, we compiled a list of 10 tips to consider when visiting a museum. Be sure to check the rules of the institution you plan to visit.
Museum Day is an annual celebration of boundless curiosity hosted by Smithsonian Magazine. Participating museums and cultural institutions across the country provide free entry to anyone presenting a Museum Day ticket.
Where will your curiosity lead you this Museum Day? Let us know @MuseumDay #MuseumDay.
- Avoid flash photography and video: ask permission first. Light, both visible and invisible, is damaging to most objects. Museums try to eliminate all-natural light from their galleries and use filters to prevent damage. Today many museums will allow visitors to take photographs without flash; however, seek permission first. If photography is allowed follow instructions on flash photography. Be especially cautious regarding permanent or changing exhibits and abide by museum rules.
- Check any bags: If you bring backpacks, large bags, or overcoats, you will need to store these with the coat check near the museum entrance.
- Avoid touching unless it’s interactive: To preserve artifacts and display items, avoid touching objects and works of art because our hand and skin oils damage the museum pieces. Remember, “Fingerprints are forever.” If a museum such as the Dell Children’s Museum or the Denver Olympic Museum offers an interactive area for visitors, clarify which areas are hands-on. Book tickets in advance for interactive exhibits and special programming that includes participation or hands-on learning.
- Avoid horseplay: Running, shoving, pushing and other physical activity can damage museum artifacts. Many institutions are field trip destinations for students or serve as family getaways. If you plan on taking children to the museum, find out what the site has to offer you. Further, as mentioned above, watch young children closely so they keep their curious little hands to themselves unless it’s appropriate to touch.
- Minimize noise: use an indoor or country club voice
- Use an indoor or country club voice: Turn your smartphone off or to silent or vibrate. Avoid loud conversations, laughing, singing, whistling, and disruptions. In some museums talking on a cell phone is prohibited, if you need to take a call, step outside or move to areas where calls are permitted. Leave iPods outside the museum.
- Check guidelines for drawing and sketching: Verify museum guidelines regarding drawing and sketching prior to your arrival. The type of medium may be restricted; many museums only allow pencils to be used in their galleries.
- Eat and drink in the cafe, not the museum: Eating and drinking are prohibited in galleries so avoid bringing food or drink into the museum. Plan your visit after a meal or check whether the institution has a café or picnic area. Many museums discourage the use of gum or candy in galleries. If unsure, ask permission first.
- Avoid smoking, vaping, or using tobacco: Tobacco smoke, vape, and spit harm more than just the human body – it also damages art, artifacts, paintings, and sculpture. This is why the use of any form of tobacco or tobacco by-product is prohibited in museums. If you smoke, use the exits and follow directions to the designated smoking areas.
- Pets and service animals: Pets are not allowed in museums. However, service animals are permitted. In the rare case that a service animal is not allowed in a certain area of an exhibit, the museum staff will work with the visitor to find a reasonable accommodation. Check the accessibility page of the museum’s website.
- Follow current health and safety guidelines: Most museums will have standard operating protocols in place which are updated periodically based on the latest health and safety guidelines, so check their website. Some may limit the number of guests allowed in at one time and/or limit ticket sales. Prepare in advance when making reservations. Be prepared with PPP, including masks, gloves, and sanitizers.
In addition to those listed above, museums have a number of rules specific to each institution. Museums reserve the right to refuse visitors if they violate the rules. Following proper museum etiquette helps ensure visitors have a meaningful experience.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.
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