Is “Museum” a Stale Brand?

At least two incipient L.A. museums are avoiding the M word. “Don’t Call It a Museum” runs a headline in the Hollywood Reporter. Architect Zoltan Pali, who’s teaming with Renzo Piano to design the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in LACMA West, explained that “Our mission here is simply when you come to this place, which we don’t really want to call a museum, we want to call it something else, it makes you forget that you are in such a place.” Come again? (Above, an extremely preliminary rendering.)

A gay and lesbian museum is also raising funds, but don’t count on it being called that. “This is going to be more than a museum, and we don’t even want to use that word,” Lavender Effect director Andy Sacher told the L.A. Weekly. In lieu of a museum Sacher promised “an emotionally immersive and engaging journey through LGBTQ cultures… using the latest in interactive technology and display techniques.”

In recent years a number of institutions with “Gallery” or “Library” in their names have replaced or augmented it with “Museum.” “Gallery” sounds like the art is for sale, and “library” says they lend books— plus you might be shooshed for speaking too loudly. “Museum” has also been adopted by a few places whose original names were just too clever for their own good (Seattle’s Experience Music Project became the EMP Museum). Meanwhile “curate” has become an all-purpose verb for anything.

Despite that, “museum” may be becoming a stale brand, at least for places that aren’t traditional art or natural history institutions. Do two comments in one week constitute a semantic trend?

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