A Museum Year in Review

Happy New Year

I’m getting a bit of a late start in 2018. I blame the insanely cold East Coast weather.  Still, here’s an obligatory year-in-review post to wrap my adventures in 2017.

Since starting this expedition last March, I’ve reviewed 144 museums. Overall averages continue to be right around, well the average.  Across all the museums I’ve visited, the average education score was 3.06, entertainment 3.09, and “should you go?” rating 3.22 (on a scale from 1 to 5).

My average time spent per museum works out to about 1 hour and 3 minutes, for a cumulative total of 6 days and 6 hours and 58 minutes spent at museums I’ve reviewed this past year.

Cumulatively I’ve spent $364 on museum admissions for my 2016 reviews, or an average admission price of $2.53.  I’m sure that will increase as I’ve saved some high-cost museums for the latter part of the project.

Wyckoff House Christmas Tree
Wyckoff House Christmas Tree

By Borough

Borough Museums Visited Percent of Total Average Edification Average Entertain-ment Go?
Brooklyn 14 61% 2.71 3.21 3.21
Bronx 15 100% 3.33 3.20 3.33
Manhattan 89 77% 3.14 3.02 3.26
Queens 19 82% 2.84 3.32 3.00
Staten Island 8 67% 2.88 2.88 3.13

At this point, Bronx museums slightly outscore those of the other boroughs.  I’m surprised by that, but then again, the Bronx today quietly punches above its weight in many ways.

Wave Hill, Bronx, New York
Fall foliage at Wave Hill, a standout among the Bronx’s surprisingly great museums

Points for Randomness

While I could focus on the greatest hits, I think it’s more fun to review the things that were most unexpected — the places I never would’ve gone except my list made me, which surprised me the most.

Truth be told, the randomest museum I’ve been to this year is one I didn’t review. While in Idaho for August’s total solar eclipse, I made a detour to the Idaho Potato Museum. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that such a place exists, giant fiberglas spud and all. But I was a little surprised that I actually liked it. I’d give it a 3 for edification, a 4 for entertainment, and a 3 for “should you go?” Assuming you ever find yourself in Blackfoot.

Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot, Idaho
We’re not in Gotham anymore…

Of the museums I’ve reviewed, I would say my top five for peak randomness would be:

I highly recommend visiting four of them.

What is a Museum, Anyway?

During 2017, I’ve had ample time to consider the concept of “museum.” I took a liberal definition of museum when I created my list. I continue to believe historic houses are indisputably museums. However, I don’t think it’s fair to judge botanical gardens by the same yardsticks as museums. And yet, I do think the historic cemeteries merit consideration as museums.

I had a conversation with my younger sister about the definition of museums, and how my thinking has evolved with the experience of visiting them all, big and small, mainstream and quirky. We kicked around various notions, starting from my initial idea that museums should both educate and entertain. I offered the idea that maybe they should “amuse” you.

From there I suggested that maybe they should be judged as places that cause you to muse on things.

And that in turn got us thinking (thanks, liberal arts education) about the Muses, the nine Greek divinities in charge of the arts. People talk about the Muses in the sense of having one, or of the Muse being upon them when they have a burst of creativity.

So perhaps museums shouldn’t just educate and entertain or amuse or make you think. Additionally, they should inspire. Something about that feels very right to me. I think of the people I’ve seen sketching at the Met, or those taking the Grolier Club’s life drawing and drinking class. Or myself, walking through say the Van Cortlandt House dutifully taking notes and seeking inspiration to frame a story about the place.

I briefly considered whether I should retroactively rate the places I’ve visited in terms of their inspiration levels. Fortunately, I have realized that even though it wasn’t an explicit criterion, inspiration correlates very strongly with how much I recommend visiting a museum.

The Shape of Museums to Come

It’s hard to believe I fewer then 50 museums to go in my Pokemon-esque effort to catch ‘em all. Barring something unforeseen, I should finish my last review just about a year from starting the project. I’ve deliberately left some of the biggest and most famous museums for late in this project — I have yet to write about MoMA or the American Museum of Natural History, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of those.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Met: Still To Come

If there’s one category of museum I’ve not done justice to thus far, it’s children’s museums. I worry that I’ll seem a little creepy if I go to a children’s museum sans kid. And additionally I want a young person’s perspective to inform my own reactions to how well the childrens’ museums fulfill their mandates. So I will have to borrow or rent some kids in the next few weeks to rectify that.

Anyway, happy new year, thanks for reading, and here’s to another two score and five museum reviews before I’m done.


Status Update

  • Total museums visited over my life in New York City: 80.
  • Total museums in New York City:  190
  • Percentage complete:  40%
  • Museum entries to date:  21
  • Changes:  Removed the Hispanic Society (closed ’til 2019 alas!); added the Judd Museum, the Museum of Food and Drink, and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.