From the Louvre in Paris, to the British Museum in London, to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim, and American Museum of Natural History in New York, I visit as many museums as I can whenever I vacation. Reflecting on my visits to my favorite museums, I realized they all have one thing in common: location. Many of the world-renowned museums are located in metropolitan cities. This realization compelled me to wonder: what about people who live in rural areas? Are they deprived of the culture and education that museums provide?
According to data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent government agency that counts the number and type of museums in this country, there are over 35,000 museums in the United States. Museums are defined broadly to include aquariums, arboretums, botanical gardens, art museums, children’s museums, general museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums, and zoological parks. This comprehensive definition may help explain why the number of museums is so high. Although the places with the most museums are big cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Diego, and Washington D.C., rural areas are not devoid of museums. For example, Storey County, Nevada, population 3,942, has 11 museums. In fact, 43% of all museums are located in rural towns! For an interactive map of the museums all over the United States, click here.
Even though museums do exist in many rural areas, there are still many counties that do not contain any museums. Up to 175 counties, mostly in the South, do not contain any museums. One of the major reasons is a lack of funding. Unfortunately, funding is often a concern for current museums, too. Due to their location, museums in small, rural towns often have the fewest opportunities for funding or technical assistance, and they cannot afford to bring in the types of desirable exhibits that museums in bigger cities can afford. Because museums are important for a variety of reasons, including providing education and employing people in the community, keeping museum doors open is vital. Luckily, the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the Smithsonian InstitutionTraveling Exhibition Services understand the importance of keeping museums in rural America alive and have partnered together to create the Museum on Main Street (MOMS) program.
MOMS provides museums in rural areas with access to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have and helps them improve their current institutions. For example, MOMS circulates various Smithsonian exhibitions. Since 1994, they have served more than 900 communities with a median population of 8,000 in 46 states and Guam. Not only do rural museums benefit from the resources offered by MOMS, but the community is enriched with greater access to historical and cultural artifacts. To see if MOMS is coming to your area, click here.
Personally, I was happy to learn that museums are not limited to the bigger cities because every individual, no matter where they live, should have access to these educational opportunities. Next time you find yourself in a rural town, you should take the time to check out the local museum – you never know what you might learn!