PRIVATE MUSEUMS / Selected results of the study:

While conducting an ethnological study in 2012 titled “Private museums, local collections. Researching new cultural space” we have looked at the activity of over 50 private museums in two provinces: Cuiavia & Pomerania and Mazovia (Poland).

What phenomenon have we looked at?

The key criteria in choosing the places for study was their form of organization and management. We have conducted 20 complete studies of places where collections were publicly displayed by private individuals and collectors.

Owner – Founder of a museum:

“Ideal type”, or averaged statistics:

> male

> average age: 56.5 (range between 40 and 83)

> formal education higher than average in “local community”

> active in social life (lecturer, member of the club, society or guild, former town councilor etc.)

> strongly developed ideal of self-education


The activity of a private museum is always connected to the person accompanying the collector. Predominantly, it is his wife, less often – other family members.

Employees / Volunteers:

15% of studied museums employ workers.

90% of them use the help of volunteers, usually with the collections repair and maintenance.


The range of subject areas in the collections of private museums is very wide. It includes antique buses, printing presses, objects connected to bread baking, agricultural machines, visual representations of the Devil, Christmas tree toys, folk art objects, paintings, as well as “immaterial” palindromes. Collections consist of 40 to over 4,000 objects.

Museum’s space:
Domestic space (broadly defined: ranging from an apartment itself to the land on which a residential building stands) is the most common localization of private museums. It is mainly due to financial issues, rather than comfort.

// Town:
addition to one-family house, garage, basement in an apartment building, post-industrial rooms (former factory), detached house, utility rooms, land around the house, historical windmill

Included on the list of historical monuments: post-industrial rooms (former factory)
// Countryside:
mansion, chalets, manor, detached building, basement in a house, private house, utility rooms, land around the house, former factory of agricultural machinery, carports, old church, barn, cowshed, farmstead
Included on the list of historical monuments: church, manor, mansion, farmstead

Visitors / audience / auditors:
Displaying the collection in most cases involves storytelling, that is, a peculiar “spectacle” performed by the guide (usually the founder and owner).
Museums are typically visited by tours organized by travel agencies, school trips, and organized groups. Individual visitors are still rare.
What’s interesting is that most visitors are usually from the outside of the nearest neighborhood (including school-age children and youth). What are the reasons of people who do not visit private museums in their neighborhood? Among the most common answers there were: “I’m not interested”, “I don’t have the time”, “There is a museum here?”, and the most interesting one: “I didn’t visit. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it but as a neighbor, not a tourist.”
The number of visitors in the studied museums varies between 200 and 9,000 per year.

Cooperation with institutions:
Most private museums usually cooperate with institutions outside of their region, rather than with the ones from their nearest neighborhood. About 20% of studied museums do not cooperate with any institution.

All studied museums run educational activity (mainly museum lessons and lectures). “Lesson on living history” is an expression most commonly used in reports prepared by schools of different levels after having visited a private museum.

Not only visiting:
Apart from displaying collections and conducting museum lessons, private museums organize fairs (40%), workshops (40%), competitions (25%), museum-themed business meetings (20%), lectures (20%), concerts (20%), conferences (15%), and even theatrical performances (in 2 of the studied museums).


Private museums are mainly supported by their owners and donations made by private individuals and companies. Only a small number of museums charge visitors (< 20 PLN) or raise funds.

The studied places vary considerably in using different channels of promotion. We came by institutions which claimed that they did not promote themselves in any way (which was a deliberate action), and institutions whose promotion activities were very developed, regular and well thought out (including websites, leaflets, posters, and event sponsoring).
In cases when owners claimed to be following a non-promotional museum policy, the promotion occurred nonetheless, but on a smaller scale. It was always a deliberate action meant to control the number of visitors – dictated by health condition, sometimes the need to find more time for collections renovation or new display preparation.

X: How many people come here, to your museum?
Y: Well, at the moment I have about 7-8 people per week. I don’t put advertisements, I don’t promote myself but when somebody comes by – I can’t refuse.
X: How do they learn of this museum?
Y: From TV, newspapers, radio. I don’t strive for attention. I can’t afford it with my health, but if somebody comes by, I can’t dismiss them. I’ll tell the story to everyone – to you, to all my visitors.

Y – 83 years old, museum operates since 1979

To be continued…
Study is to be continued in 2013. This time we shall look at social museums run by, e.g. societies, foundations, and also companies.

Funding: The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland and Cuiavia & Pomerania Province
Study execution: Ari Ari Foundation (Fundacja Ari Ari / www.ariari.org)