This article is part of our Museums special section about how institutions are striving to offer their visitors more to see, do and feel.


Michigan State University and Yale University are very different types of higher education institutions, but they have at least one thing in common: They have been spending millions of dollars to revamp their museums.

So have New York University. And Princeton. And Penn State. And Utah State University.

At a time when many museums and colleges are grappling with financial challenges as well as their changing role in society, it may seem surprising that universities and donors are willing to shell out lots of money to make their museums showcases.

There is no exact number of how many college museums are being renovated or even how many exist nationwide. The Association of Academic Museums and Galleries is conducting a census to get a more accurate count, but its latest estimate is that there are 659 such museums in the United States. the majority are art museums but include history, natural history, science and anthropology.

And even while some are unveiling shiny new buildings, others are closing their doors. Nonetheless, a surprising number of university museums are undergoing major upgrades.

Each institution has different reasons for renovating and expanding, but “it comes down to relevancy,” said Devon Akmon, director of Michigan State University’s art museum. “How do we remain relevant and how do we create programs for the communities we serve and how do we welcome people into a space?”

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