The unexpected pleasures of the ‘tour guiding’ visit

The past week and a half comprised the lead up to and aftermath of my wedding. As a result, I spent 40% of my time worrying about other people, 30% feeling elated and happy, and 30% feeling completely exhausted. Still, I was determined to publish a new post before the end of this week.

Yesterday, I sat down at my computer to brainstorm. I was reminded of the Sex and the City episode where Carrie struggles to find an angle for her latest column.

Remember that guy who wore sandals, Randal the sandal guy? We had a couple of dates. Six years ago? Is that anything? – Carrie Bradshaw, ‘Unoriginal Sin’

My thought process was similar.

Weddings. Museums and weddings? Museums and marriage? Is there anything here?

I didn’t get far with this line of inquiry. However, after reflecting on my week, I realized that I had in fact visited a number of museums and cultural heritage sites in an effort to show my family around while they were visiting from Australia for the wedding.

Thinking about the different places we visited, I noticed that they were not necessarily the institutions and sites that I would have prioritized had I been gallivanting on my own. Yet, the visits were memorable—because I was with my family.

I also noticed that of all the places we visited, the cultural sites were the locations where we took the most group pictures. I suspect this is because museums and heritage sites offer more attractive backdrops than restaurants and shopping malls. However, another possibility is that cultural sites offer a ‘sense of occasion’—a uniquely therapeutic and empowering asset. (The importance of this ‘sense of occasion’ in social museum work was recently brought to my attention by Adriane Boag, Coordinator of the National Gallery of Australia’s Art and Alzheimer’s Program, during one of the program’s two-day training workshops.)

We go to museums for many reasons; to learn, to relax, and to experience beauty are just a few examples. Sometimes, however, we go to museums simply because it is something we can do with the people we love (who may have also travelled ten thousand miles to be with us).

Museum visits are inherently social and provide numerous moments of connection. These were some of ours:

  • National Mall – Walking through the mall, my mum and I reminisced about our 2008 trip to DC and the many museums and exhibits we visited.
  • The White House – When my family asked me to point out The White House, I had to refer to Google Maps and laughed when I realized how frighteningly little I actually knew about DC.
  • Lincoln Memorial – We walked our tired legs all the way back from Chinatown to visit the memorial. My jetlagged father fell asleep in the middle of the steps while my mum and I quietly chatted in a shady spot. My brother and I were the only ones with enough energy left to trudge up the steps to the top where we shared some nice moments taking photos in front of Lincoln’s statue. photo (1) copy
  • Maryland State House (Annapolis) – We enjoyed a rainy, yet beautiful walk to get there, took some great group shots, and later impressed my new mother-in-law with news of our visit.
  • Historic Annapolis Museum – In the museum store, we found some great thank you gifts for various people. The museum itself provided material for later conversation, as my mum and I were able to discuss what we had learned over coffee a few days later.

So in closing, I am reminded that, often, cultural and heritage sites enliven our relationships and offer us a sense of wellbeing without even trying—but simply by existing, and by inviting us in.

For further reading on the ways that museums enrich our relationships see Silverman, L. H. (2010). The social work of museums. New York, NY: Routledge.

One thought on “The unexpected pleasures of the ‘tour guiding’ visit

  1. Pingback: Just you and the museum | Museums with impact

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