How To Run A Museum (And Teach Others To As Well)


By: Joe Patti

In: Arts Admin, Audience Development, Customer Service, Marketing & Communications, Project & Time Management

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) website has a guide for running museums written by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The guide, Running A Museum: A Practical Handbook is available in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish as a basic primer for running any type of museum or historical site.

It addresses all the basic concerns of museums including acquisition, storage, documentation, restoration, ethical questions, education, visitor management, employee management, facilities, security and disaster planning, marketing and theft and detection of illicit goods.

Obviously there is a lot of nuance about running a museum it can’t catch. For example, I have read a number of articles and blog posts debating issues related to the content of informational materials in displays.

Still, it is an impressive work in terms the breadth of topics it addresses and details it raises for consideration. (i.e. The damage insects can do if they sneak into your display cases and how to detect them before they get there.)

Perhaps equally impressive is that there is a companion Trainer’s Manual for using Running A Museum as a training tool. This document is also available in multiple languages.

The training manual suggests a number of ways Running A Museum could be used, including using the entire text in a year long post-graduate course, using part of the text for staff training in a particular topic area or even smaller segments for half day workshops involving all members of the staff.

One of the central philosophies of the training manual is that everyone has a stake in knowing at least a little bit about the concerns and challenges of every department. For example, everyone needs to be aware of the issues surrounding illicit trafficking in goods and how it might manifest for the particular museum: curators need to be alert when they are planning displays; security needs to be aware that people may want to steal objects that don’t appear valuable; public relations staff needs to know how to talk about the issue should an incident arise.

 Museum of Hoaxes On The Other Hand Might Worry That They Had Something Authentic
Museum of Hoaxes On The Other Hand Might Worry That They Had Something Authentic

The guide talks about how to organize and plan staff training programs and includes worksheets that may be used in conjunction with lessons. The guide acknowledges that people have different learning styles and suggests ways to structure instruction to facilitate learning across the range of styles. There is a list of ways to evaluate the training, both from direct feedback and observation of what parts of the training staff seem to enjoy and what they apply in the performance of their duties.

Most of the training modules outlined in the book are very straightforward and align closely with the corresponding chapter in Running A Museum. However, the training for visitor interactions is intentionally designed for a team spanning many departments and is organized around 15 themes.

Some of these themes include: Developing a Visitor Services Policy and Strategy; Understanding the present visitor services and facilities; Understanding your potential and virtual visitors; Delivering Visitor Services; Communication and Information Group: Gathering Information; Making the Museum Family-Friendly.

Even if you aren’t running a museum, you might draw inspiration and tips for your own staff training from some of the modules, especially those related to the visitor experience. There is a worksheet for every training module and theme. It would be very easy to adapt their checklist for evaluating the experience from the visitor point of view (page 90) to most arts organization.

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
Author Archive

2 thoughts on “How To Run A Museum (And Teach Others To As Well)”

  1. good morning I am an Education Officer at a Museum in Choma Zambia .I am Kindly requesting for copies of the Practical guide of running museums and the Training Manual.These resources will help enhance my work and also effectively network with the community and other Museum professionals .
    I will appreciate if the Documents and any other resources are sent as attached documents to my email.


Leave a Comment