Opening a new museum is a massive, time-intensive undertaking that requires collaboration and deft management of competing agendas and politics among designers, contractors and museum operators, as noted in a summer 2017 Development magazine article, “The Challenges of Bringing a Museum to Market,” by Robbie Tarpley Raffish. Sometimes a new museum can come to fruition relatively quickly, as the article notes, such as the $505 million, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible (MoB) in Washington, D.C., which went from concept to execution in only six years. Often, it takes a decade or more. One extreme example is the recently opened $120 million, 118,000-square-foot Museum of the American Revolution (MoAR), which was 100 years in the making. Originally planned by The Valley Forge Historical Society for a site in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, plans changed in the early 2000s to locate the museum at Independence Historical Park in Center City Philadelphia.
Museums, however, are well worth the effort, not only for their educational and cultural value, but also for the economics of such a project. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services: “Museums pump more than $50 billion into the U.S. economy annually, support more than 726,000 American jobs, generate $12 billion in tax revenue, and spur tourism from around the world.”
Noted museum consultant Mark Walhimer, managing consultant of Museum Planning, which has been part of opening and expanding more than 40 museums worldwide since 1999, offered 10 Steps to Starting a Museum, which he followed with a book titled Museums 101:
- Begin with a one-page description of the museum concept.
- Organize a community meeting and ask those in attendance what kind of museum they would like to see.
- Visit at least 20 museums of the type being considered.
- Contact local real estate developers with whom the idea will likely resonate; a museum, after all, will become a community resource.
- Run an analysis of anticipated costs to start the museum, keeping in mind that exhibit space, as a rule of thumb, will be half of the overall space of the museum.
- “Own” all of the words associated with the museum concept…literally. Undertake web searches and purchase website domain names related to the words that describe the museum concept.
- Establish a nonprofit for the museum after community buy-in.
- Create a preview facility, a smaller version of the yet-to-be-opened museum.
- Raise money for the concept.
- Share the vision.
Even though the road is long and arduous to opening a new museum, there is no shortage of new museums that have opened in 2017 or will open in 2018 in the U.S. and Canada, including:
Remai Modern, a public art museum in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, designed by Canadian architectural firm KPMB (Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects) and Architecture49. The 126,000-square-foot, $80.2 million museum, which opened in late 2017, was cited as one of the top 20 places to go in 2018 in a New York Times travel feature.
The new Institute for Contemporary Art, which opened late last month at the entryway of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia is a $41 million, 41,000-square-foot museum designed by Steven Holl Architects.
The Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Washington opens this month in a 57,000-square-foot facility after having long ago outgrown its roots in a local elementary school building. The $45 million building, designed by Mithun, is wrapped in a “vertically striated zinc skin while inside the white walls invoke the glacier planes of a fjord.”
Ron Derven is Contributing Editor to Development Magazine and writes on real estate topics for The New York Times