OMA 2023 Student Scholarship Blog - Theresa Sanderell

The Ohio Museums Association is committed to connecting and empowering museum professionals at all stages of their career — including our student and emerging museum professionals!

For our 2023 OMA Annual Conference, OMA was very proud to offer students seeking careers in the museum field, scholarships to attend OMA 2023 in Newark.

Miss our previous posts? Learn more about the Scholarship series and read our previous entries here.

We're continuing our 2023 Student Scholarship series with this week's post from Theresa Sanderell. Theresa Sanderell is a History major at The Ohio State University (class of 2023). She is currently the Guest Experience Supervisor at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum

Theresa is changing it up a little this week, and wanted to share the final paper from her independent study course - which she completed shortly after the OMA conference. Theresa said, "I utilized a lot of the OMA conference sessions to back up my essay and lead discussions with my professor, who is not a museum professional."

 Museums: Centers of Public Service and Community Engagement

Statement of Purpose

This paper is a reflection on three museums identified in the Columbus community – The Wexner Center for the Arts (The Wex), the Center for Science and Industry (COSI), and The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (the Billy Ireland) – and how they are centers of public service and engagement.  The information presented has been gathered from a variety of sources, including the institutions print ephemera, online presence, visits to the institutions from myself (a museum professional and college student) and college students from the Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College. The inclusion of the opinions of these individuals was important, as they have recently moved to the campus area from Marion and Lewis Center, Ohio, attended both private and public schools, and study a variety of topics (Criminology, Computer Science Engineering, and Culinary Hospitality). If this paper focused on more than three institutions and I was not inhibited by a semester time constraint, more research could have been conducted to collect the opinions of more individuals in the Columbus Community.

Throughout this paper, I will reference the tables on the page below with information regarding admission prices and hours of operation. These tables do not include special events and or other engagements occurring on the Ohio State University’s campus. For this discussion I have chosen to utilize the term community to also include the word audience which is sometimes viewed separately.


Admission Costs for Museums in Columbus, OH – 2023

Museum Institution

Adult Admission

Youth Admission

Museums for All

Center of Science and Industry




The Wexner Center for the Arts




The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Archive





Hours of Operation:


 An archaeological site in Iraq dating from the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, is believed to be the world’s first public museum. Archaeologists credit Ennigaldi-Nanna, a member of the royal family, to have curated items that relate to the formation of and identity of the empire.[1] Throughout time museums have evolved to be places of worship, centers of knowledge and community engagement. Historically, museums have been established and curated by private owners and were made inaccessible to the general public, especially those who were not members of the upper classes. Perhaps a classic example of museum inaccessibility is that of the French Louvre Museum. When the Louvre first opened in 1793, the general public was allowed access to the museum for three days per week. Then, in the early 1800’s this access was revoked, and the general public were only able to access the museum for four hours, typically on a Saturday or Sunday. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that a movement began in North American institutions to make museums accessible to and include the general public

 It was this movement of accessibility that established the Museum Age, which has allowed the development of the modern museum institution. Under the League of Nations, in response to World War I, museums were recognized as being culturally important institutions providing a great service for society. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) was founded in 1946, and fifteen years later, they defined museum as “all collections, open to the public, of artistic, technical, scientific, historical or archaeological material, including zoos and botanical gardens, but excluding libraries, except in so far as they maintain permanent exhibition rooms”.[2] This definition was created on the foundation of the Ancient Greek word mouseion, which referred to a location or building dedicated to the muses, deities of art. The definition accepted in 1946 was greatly impacted by the destruction of important cultural materials during both World Wars. Since then, it has been revisited periodically by members of the international museum community, to better fit a rapidly evolving society. Many of these new definitions have been built upon the inclusion of previously silenced or unheard voices, in addition to the global standardization of the museum industry.

 On August 24th, 2022, ICOM gathered in Prague and voted in an overwhelming majority to redefine the term museum. The new definition reads, “A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets, and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible, and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally, and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection, and knowledge sharing”.[3]

Most important about this new definition is the emphasis and addition of community and the participation of the community museums serve. Change in definition reflects not only the passage of time, but the changes to the societal role of museums. ICOM, despite being an internationally recognized organization and close partner with the United Nations, is based upon membership, but membership is not required to be a part of the museum industry and community. Museums are approaching a crossroads, at which they must address new historical information, respond to marginalized voices, and present the past in a multitude of ways for changing audiences.[4] It is this detail that contributes to the long and specific newly created definition. Which is designed to encourage all museums to adhere to these ideals.

Like any organization, museums have targeted audiences they wish to engage with. Arguably, all museums reflect their identified community as well as their geographical location. Community based museums provide ways to transmit identities and select important themes through public programming, such as events, exhibitions, workshops, hands-on-activities, and discussions. Combining the items listed above creates one of the best ways for museums to measure community engagement and tailor the services they provide. Each institution will define the breadth of what community engagement means to them differently, however the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) stresses that the collaboration with diverse groups and taking action to benefit the community around them is essential.[5]

Columbus Museum Community

Museums can be found in all 50 states, but the Buckeye State stands out with over 1,300 museums, equating to roughly 11 museums per 100,000 residents.[6] While the exact number of museums within the city of Columbus differs depending on sources, the number typically ranges around 20 or above. Columbus is home to a vibrant museum cohort that has established deep and meaningful connections to the communities that reside within the city. They are essential institutions to the identity, culture, and economic success of the state capital. Here within the city, the tourism industry supports 75,000 jobs which equates to roughly 1 out of every 15 jobs.[7] Experience Columbus, an organization focusing on the tourism industry, found that in 2022 the average attendance to events across the city was up by 78% since 2020.[8] Looking at the museums around Columbus today, it can be difficult to identify how the pandemic impacted the tourism industry, specifically the museum sector.

Worldwide museums have been impacted by the pandemic, and many are still attempting to become more accessible to their communities. This is an incredibly difficult task, both AAM and ICOM have found in different studies that visitation to museums is down by 38% since 2019.[9] Part of this drop in visitation can be explained by the change in the economy and the fact that museums are considered by many to be leisure time activities. Because of the perception museums are leisure time activities and require a certain economic standing, museums are becoming increasingly distant from their communities. Deepening the gap between museums and their communities is the fact that 13% of all museums may never reopen to the public, likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. [10]

 Since the early 2000’s, Columbus has attempted to rebrand itself through highlighting diversity, creativity, and encouraging. Many museums have established themselves as centers for community engagement, and because of this they have been able to flourish throughout a series of reopening after the pandemic. Television news stations and newspapers published stories documenting institutions decisions to close to the public in 2020 and then their reopening plans that due to the nature of the situation often changed quickly and dramatically. The connections between museums and their communities in central Ohio is constantly being strengthened by engaging with one another.

The Center of Science and Industry

 On March 29th, 1964, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) opened in the building that today houses the Franklin County Public Health offices. In 1999, COSI established itself in the former Central High School building overlooking the Scioto River in the Franklinton neighborhood. COSI has become a well-established member of the Columbus community and has earned the title of America’s #1 science museum.[11] Despite the strong connections with the city of Columbus and national recognition for their efforts, COSI does not always connect well with their community.

Dominating the Scioto Peninsula, COSI in recent years has begun to see expansion and a change in their geographic location. From the Scioto River the building reflects a stereotypical museum but coming from the west side of the city one is greeted by a futuristic building bringing to mind Silicon Valley. COSI utilizes the difference in architecture to host different community events that are reminiscent of a classic museum institution but also expands the institution’s role as a pivotal member of the Columbus community. As more businesses move into the Franklinton neighborhood, COSI as well as the identity of all institutions along the Scioto Peninsula will change.

 Many of the new businesses expected to open over the course of several years in the Franklinton Neighborhood include bars, hotels, apartment complexes, office spaces, and restaurants. This dynamic shift will greatly impact COSI’s visitation and their reputation amongst museum professionals and the general public as an institution designed to entertain children. The implementation of events such as COSI After Dark requires visitors to be over the age of 21 to come visit the museum after hours with access to alcoholic beverages is in direct response to this reputation. A change of this nature reflects a shift in the identity of the institution and their community.

 Ticket prices are incredibly important when discussing museums being centers of community engagement. Beyond the exterior of the COSI the general public is then met with the second highest admission price in Columbus at $25 per adult. The Columbus Zoo is the only other institution with a higher admission price of $30 per adult. Guests then must make the conscious choice to pay for admission, to find another way to interact with the institution, or leave completely. Due to the pandemic, COSI was able to create more ways for their community to interact with them through programs such as Science in A Box, QED with Dr. B, and Dr. B in 3. Two of these programs can be found online, through COSI’s website and other affiliated social media channels and WOSU. By providing additional ways for individuals to interact with their institution, COSI is attempting to broaden their community.

OSU Affiliated Museums

 Important to mention at this time, is that all students who I spoke to regarding institutions located on OSU’s campus were transfer students from either Columbus State Community College or OSU Marion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regarding my own basis, I recognize that I was a transfer student who commuted to OSU, I spent little time outside of classes on campus. This is mentioned because transfer students interact with OSU very differently than other students.

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Archive is considered a hidden secret on OSU’s campus. Beginning originally as a library in 1977, the library was named after Ohio cartoonist Billy Ireland, who had worked for the Columbus Dispatch for his entire life. Today, it now holds the world’s largest and most comprehensive academic research facility documenting and displaying cartoon art.[12] Even though it is the largest collection of cartoon art it is not well known within the comic community. For many years the library and museum found itself housed in the basement of several buildings on campus until finding its permanent home since in Sullivant Hall in 2009. Sullivant Hall is located across a courtyard from the Wexner Center, along High Street in the University District.

The architecture of the building alludes to an intimidating institution, strikingly like that of a courthouse or other governmental agency. Stepping into Sullivant Hall, a guest is immediately welcomed with scarlet and gray which dominate the landscape of OSU’s campus. Despite the Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy calling the building home as well, the institution sees a noticeable lack of students visiting. The Billy Ireland has provided students and other guests adequate information regarding the unfortunate parking situation but also how to maneuver around the near constant construction. In addition to the construction and the imposing nature of the building, visitation is heavily impacted by odd and specific hours of operation, making it nearly inaccessible to the public.

 Out of all the institutions focused on in depth, this institution operates not only as a museum but also as a university library and archive. This is important to note, as libraries are traditionally seen as being open to the public and spaces for gathering, while archives are closed off with limited access. The hours of operation for the Billy Ireland reflect staffing, especially with the emphasis on appointments are required to visit the archives. While this is semi-standard practice for some archives, this perpetuates the notion that museums and their collections are inaccessible to the public. Due to scheduling conflicts, this institution was also the only one I was unable to visit in person.

 The Billy Ireland has created a specific niche of the geographical community, likely based upon its origins as a donation to the Ohio State University. Many famous cartoonists have called the state of Ohio home, yet this is something that not many in the state seem to know. There appears to be a lack of connection between the local artistic and geographical communities. This conclusion is based upon the public events calendar, it does not seem that the library and museum have many advertised public events. While the Billy Ireland Library and Museum does a fantastic job representing Ohio’s cartoon history there is room for improvement in representing itself amongst other institutions within the city of Columbus.

Wexner Center for the Arts

 The Wexner Center for the Arts was built in 1989 with significant funding from the Wexner family, who lent their name to the institution.[13] The institution can be found in the heart of the University District along High Street within the Ohio State University (OSU). On sunny days, music can be heard outside of the museum coming from restaurants on High Street with students, faculty, police, and others visiting the area wandering throughout the courtyard space leading up to the Wex. Tables and chairs dot the courtyard space, creating a welcoming environment for individuals to sit and work or have quick conversations outside. The actual architectural designs of the building create a scaffolding appearance, creating lines that suggest a similarity between the layout of campus and the city of Columbus.

 Like many places located on campus, the Wex struggles with the near constant accessibility issue of parking. The nearest parking garages to the Wexner Center are located at quite a distance away from the entrance, potentially discouraging many guests who may be concerned about the roughly three-minute walk to the entrance. However, the nearest Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) and Campus Area Bus Services (CABS) stops have been identified for guests as alterative options for transportation.[14] As construction continues on and off of OSU’s campus, there is a possibility that the scaffolding effect of the building impacts an individual’s perception of the institution being open to the public. Notions that museums belong to elites is compounded in the case of the Wex, as they are so deeply connected to an institution of higher learning. Despite their location within the heart of campus, the Wexner Center sees very little visitation and involvement from students. This is surprising, as it is a prominent building along The Oval, surrounded by class buildings and has amenities for students to utilize. One example being the Heirloom Café located inside of the institution is found on OSU’s GrubHub page allowing students to order food ahead of time and pick it up on the way to class or sit in the café utilizing it as a study space.

 Accessibility to the institution has become a larger focus in recent years, so it is interesting to note that despite two other locations on campus being affiliated with Kulture City, a non-profit with a specialty in sensory accessibility and inclusion of invisible disabilities, the Wexner Center is not one of them. Some of the current exhibits on display are not the most sensory friendly, as individuals enter dark rooms with sudden noises, quite different from the rest of the galleries. Art is subjective, so it is possible that this drastic change in the environment and uncomfortable atmosphere was intentional. Their physical and online presence have a significant difference in their accessibility, with detailed descriptions of sensory rooms and calming spaces are provided alongside access information. Photos and videos are matched with transcripts and cover a variety of topics.

 Clicking through their website it is immediately striking that the Wexner Center has fought to create an identity for themselves outside of the OSU community. There is a refreshing lack of OSU affiliated scarlet and gray which allows for a viewer of the website an opportunity to distance their visit from the university. To a certain degree, this may hinder the institution as they have an opportunity to engage with a community not affiliated with OSU, but on the other hand this may make it difficult for members of the OSU community to recognize their presence.

 In May of 2022, The Wexner Center was able to offer free admission once again, after a brief period of time where admission prices were $8. Historically the institution has been free and open to the public, so this announcement was welcomed by the community. This announcement also coincided with a rebranding of the Wexner Center that began during the pandemic to better reflect the Columbus community. This is a process that is still underway, as the institution recognized a fractured relationship with their community.


 Museums have long been criticized for being exclusive, presenting a narrow, Eurocentric view of culture. For museums to move forward in this rapidly changing world, it is critical that they acknowledge and address biases, working towards creating a more inclusive and representative space. They must act in the interests of their communities, encouraging participation and leadership to make changes in their communities.[15] Prior to entering any institution visitors are immediately impacted by the expectations institutions have of them through their physical location, structure of the building, ticket prices, and reputation. Beyond just these concepts are thousands more that impact the museum industry and society.

 In 2015, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNSECO) identified that museums play a significant role in society, “particularly for the protection and promotion of cultural and natural diversity, but also for dialogue, education, development, and social cohesion”.[16] Community engagement builds relationships within a community by actively listening to individuals and involving them in decision making processes. When community engagement is most effective there is an increase of trust and collaboration, improved communication and understanding, coupled with enhanced ownership and accountability.[17]

 Today museums like the Wexner Center for the Arts, The Billy Ireland Library and Museum, and the Center of Science and Industry offer programs and events with the purpose of engaging local communities through workshops, talks, tours, and interactive exhibits. These programs appeal to a variety of people, creating opportunities for individuals to connect with one another. Spaces then open for dialogue and exchange where different perspectives are shared, and the community and museum can learn from each other. By working with other museums and organizations, community involvement can be fostered and promote a stronger sense of cultural identity and belonging. When community members feel empowered, they tackle current issues, speaking from an established and respected authoritative platform.

[1] Why Do We Have Museums? YouTube. YouTube, 2015.

[2] ICOM, Extraordinary General Assembly. Museum Definition. 1946. April 23rd, 2023.

[3] ICOM, Extraordinary General Assembly. Museum Definition. August 24, 2022, Prague. April 23rd, 2023.

[4] Young, David W. The Battles of Germantown: Effective Public History in America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2009. Pg 133.

[5] American Alliance of Museums. Community and Audience Engagement Workbook: Museum Assessment Program. 2020.

[6] OMA General Impact Statement 2023. PDF File.

[7] [7] OMA General Impact Statement 2023. PDF File.

[8] “2022 State of the Visitor Industry: Year-End Report.” Experience Columbus. Experience Columbus, February 2, 2023.

[9] “COVID-19: UNESCO and ICOM Concerned about the Situation Faced by the World's Museums.” UNESCO Press Release: Covid-19. May 18, 2020.

[10] “COVID-19: UNESCO and ICOM Concerned about the Situation Faced by the World's Museums.” UNESCO Press Release: Covid-19. May 18, 2020.

[11] “Center of Science and Industry.” COSI. Center of Science and Industry.

[12] Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. The Ohio State University.

[13] “Welcome to the Wex!” Welcome to the Wex! | Wexner Center for the Arts. The Ohio State University.

[14] “Welcome to the Wex!” Welcome to the Wex! | Wexner Center for the Arts. The Ohio State University.

[15] Young, David W. The Battles of Germantown: Effective Public History in America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2009. Pg 111.

[16] Mairesse, Francois. Rep. Report on the Implementation of the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation on Museums & Collections: Recommendation Concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, Their Diversity and Their Role in Society. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2019.

[17] American Alliance of Museums. Community and Audience Engagement Workbook: Museum Assessment Program. 2020.



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