Starting A Museum

When starting a new museum, remember the Oklahoma Museums Association is the primary provider of professional training and technical information to staff, board members and volunteers of Oklahoma’s 500+ museums, historic sites, tribal cultural centers and historical societies. OMA members receive discounted fees on seminars and other training opportunities as well as the ability to apply for scholarships to OMA training.

What is a museum? Although there are varying answers, in general a museum is an organization committed to public service, education and inclusion grounded in stewardship and scholarship. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency, defines a museum as a public or private nonprofit agency or institution organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational or aesthetic purposes, which, utilizing a professional staff, owns or utilizes tangible objects, cares for them and exhibits them to the public on a regular basis.  The accepted definition of a museum by the Oklahoma Museums Association follows, a museum as recognized by the Oklahoma Museums Association, is defined as an organization which uses a professional staff or the equivalent, whether paid or unpaid, that is primarily engaged in the acquisition, care and exhibition to the public of objects or interactive displays/exhibits owned or used by the institution. Further, a museum is understood to possess a variety of the following characteristics: 1) is organized on a permanent or regular basis for essentially educational and/or aesthetic purposes; 2) owns or uses tangible objects, either animate or inanimate; 3) cares for these objects; and 4) exhibits these objects to the general public on a regular basis at or in a facility which it owns or operates; 5) provides educational and cultural programming.

Starting a 501c3 nonprofit organization: Instructions, Suggestions & Examples  From the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits  

The American Alliance of Museums online toolkit From the Ground Up can be purchased online here 

The Oklahoma Museums Association encourages excellence in museums including best practices and standards which can be used as a benchmark for their own performance. Standards are generally accepted levels that all museums are expected to achieve. Best practices are commendable actions and philosophies that demonstrate an awareness of standards, solve problems and can be replicated. More information.

Museums should consider a business plan in their early stages of planning.  Cecil C. Carter of Murray State College offers one model for museums.

The OMA lending library has a series of books available on the topic of starting a new museum. In addition, Rowman & Littlefield publishes books on museum related topics.

Thinking About Starting A Museum:  A Discussion Guide and Workbook on Museums and Heritage Projects Produced by Museums Alberta, 2003.
This publication can be downloaded for free.  It is a great resource to read when thinking about starting a museum.

How do you start a museum? Advice from four museum leaders who’ve done it by Elisa Shoeberger MuseumNext The process of translating an idea and opening your doors as a museum can
be a challenging and foreboding process. To help give insight on the topic, MuseumNext consulted with the heads and founders of four recently opened museums for recommendations on steps and frameworks to consider.

Code of Ethics for Museums by American Association of Museums
Adopted in November 1993 and revised in 1999 by the AAM Board of Directors, this code provides a framework for developing an institution’s own code of ethics and reflects the current, generally understood standards of the museum field. Issues covered include governance, collections, programs and promulgation.

Museum resources from the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies