Finding the perfect gift for loved ones over the holidays can be a challenge in the best of times, let alone during the unending nightmare hellscape that has been 2020. If your loved ones are anything like me, they’ve been impulse buying everything they could conceivably need (and several things they definitely did not) online throughout the year, and the continued social distancing guidelines make the gift of experiences tricky to say the least. So if you’re desperately looking for something a little different to give to friends and loved ones, we at Fangirlish have a suggestion: check out your local museums!
In 2014, over 35,000 museums operated within the United States. These include institutions such as arboretums and botanical gardens; historic preservation organizations and history museums; science and technology centers; planetariums; children’s museums; art museums; general museums; natural history museums; and zoos.
No matter what your interest, there’s probably a museum somewhere that caters to it. Are you interested in spycraft and espionage? Check out Washington, D.C.’s International Spy Museum. If your interests veer a little more into the unusual or even the macabre, try Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, MO or the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, PA. There’s a museum solely for terrible art (the Museum of Bad Art in Somerville, MA). There are even museums dedicated to all things potato (the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, ID) or banana (the International Banana Museum in Mecca, CA).
Of course, there are also more traditional museums. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. has more than 145 million artifacts in its collection. And for those who have children with interests ranging from dinosaurs to space to all things Barbie, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in Indianapolis, IN is the biggest children’s museum in the world, with a 2021 lineup that includes exhibits featuring Sue the T-Rex; D.C. superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash; Dora and Diego from Dora the Explorer; and an expansion of their existing Power of Children exhibit to include the story of Malala Yousafzai.
THE NEED FOR SUPPORT
The economic impact of the months-long closure to slow the spread of COVID-19 has hit many museums particularly hard. A survey conducted in June by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) indicated that at least a third of the nation’s museums were in danger of closing permanently due to the pandemic. A follow-up survey released in November indicated that nearly one-third of responding museums never reopened after the initial shutdown order in March. The survey painted a bleak portrait of the sustainability of many more museums, even those that did reopen their doors.
Why is that? Most museums in the U.S. operate as nonprofits. Overseas, these institutions are often supported primarily through their national governments. However, U.S. museums sustain operations by cobbling together various funding streams. The four primary sources of museum funding include earned revenue, government and grant support, private donations, and investment income. While it is often assumed that the government funds museums, government support typically makes up only about 24% of museum income. For many museums, that figure is a good deal smaller, and this revenue stream has been rending downwards in general in recent years. The primary sources of operating revenue for many museums comes from either individual donations or earned revenue (including admission fees).
WHAT CAN I DO?
Interested in giving a gift that supports your favorite local (or even non-local) museum? Curious to know what kinds of museums are even in your area? For a list of local museums, you can check out Wikipedia‘s breakdown of museums by state. Or Google can help find a museum geared towards almost any niche interest. For example, you can explore a DnD exhibit, a 007 exhibition, or a museum celebrating the culture of food.
Of course, one way to support these organizations would be to make a donation or to purchase a membership. Museums nationwide have taken extra steps to improve visitor safety during the pandemic, including enhanced cleaning protocols. (AAM has issued resources for museums to utilize, including enhanced cleaning protocols and sample reopening plans. Site-specific information can often be found on each museum’s website or via a quick phone call.) However, many organizations have also expanded their virtual offerings. Now more than ever, you can visit museums around the world from the comfort of your home!
For example, you can visit Jane Austen’s house, explore the Uffizi, take a trip to the Louvre, or tour Mayan ruins. Many of these tours are free, but several museums also offer additional programming at low cost for visitors and/or homeschool/remote learning families on virtual field trips. For example, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis offers free virtual activities to keep children engaged through its Museum at Home initiative throughout the year and offered low-cost expedition kits for families over fall break, to explore the world without having to leave the house. The International Spy Museum offers a Spy Trivia Challenge for a small fee. And if you know anyone who’s doing pod learning, Shedd Aquarium offers a virtual field trip to learn more about sharks.
If you’re looking for a different type of gift this holiday season, consider supporting your favorite museum. There’s a world full of fun and engaging experiences out there for you, and you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas to enjoy them.