First, what is a museum?
Museum means a nonprofit, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment.
Once, a museum was exclusively “a building used for storage and exhibition of objects illustrating antiquities, natural history, art, etc.” While many museums still fall under the latter description, today a wide spectrum of institutions may be included in the former, broader definition of museum:
natural, archaeological, ethnographic and museum-like historical monuments and sites; botanical and zoological gardens, aquaria and vivaria; science centres and planetaria; nonprofit art exhibition galleries; conservation institutes and exhibition galleries permanently maintained by libraries and archival centres; nature reserves; cultural centres and other organisations that facilitate the preservation, continuation and management of tangible or intangible heritage resources (living heritage and digital creative activity) and so on.
And just as museums are different, so are their Friends.
All “Friends of museums” share the objective to support museums and contribute to their development, acknowledgment and influence among the general public. They act on a voluntary and non-remunerative basis. Their support may be moral, financial or provided through voluntary work or expertise.
Volunteers, trustees, members of museum boards, benefactors, donors, as well as research fellows or honorary curators are all considered Friends of museums.
The term “support”
, however, might sound too passive, for what the Friends have achieved is to bring the voice of the lay person, the non-specialist, into the museums. And over the years, their hard work and ideas have brought about a change in museums themselves, bringing museums closer to the people, and people closer to museums.
Friends can take on a wide variety of tasks on public programmes and behind the scenes, either raising funds directly or supporting the museum’s own fundraising projects. They know their way around the local community and can match up people, ideas and money as well as influence the local press and raise local state and government awareness; they can take on new challenges and many support their museum in addressing social issues. Their aims and objectives differ from country to country.
The term “association”
covers all forms of organisation that bring together Friends and volunteers of museums and structure their activities. Whether legally constituted or not, these associations, societies or committees can operate only with official recognition from the institution concerned.