International Museum Day: Celebrating Cultural Diversity through Art and History

International Museum Day, an annual event that has gained worldwide significance, has become a platform for highlighting cultural richness and the importance of preserving artistic and historical heritage. In this article, we'll delve into its origins, objectives, and leading activities, among other aspects.

What is International Museum Day?

International Museum Day, established by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), is celebrated every 18th May since 1977. This global event aims to raise public awareness about museums' crucial role in society and enrich intercultural understanding.

This day (abbreviated as IMD in English and DIM in Spanish) has its roots in an initiative by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), a non-governmental organization founded in 1946 to bring together museum professionals worldwide. This annual celebration, which has evolved since its inception in 1977, highlights the importance of museums as crucial institutions for society.

Origin and Objectives of IMD

The impetus to establish International Museum Day emerged in the 1970s when the fundamental role of museums in preserving and disseminating culture and history was recognized. The museum community sought a global platform that could unite museums from all nations under a common goal.

18th May 1977 marked the first celebration of International Museum Day. The choice of this date was not coincidental, as it commemorates the anniversary of ICOM, founded precisely on that day in 1946. Since then, 18th May has been a day dedicated to highlighting the relevance of museums in contemporary society.

The main objective of International Museum Day is to raise public awareness about the essential role of these institutions in education, intercultural dialogue, and heritage preservation. By providing a space for reflection and appreciation of art and history, it seeks to strengthen the ties between the community and museums.

ICOM, the driving force behind International Museum Day
The International Council of Museums, or ICOM, is a symbolic entity that preserves and promotes cultural heritage worldwide.

ICOM's origins date back to the post-war context. In 1946, a group of museum professionals, aware of the ravages suffered by cultural heritage during World War II, set out to establish an international organization to advocate for protecting and recovering threatened cultural riches.

This non-governmental organization has played a crucial role in uniting museum professionals from all latitudes and creating prominent initiatives, including International Museum Day.

international museum day

Activities organized for IMD

Museums worldwide participate in this day with various activities, from special exhibitions and guided tours to conferences and interactive activities. As of today, scheduled special events may occur only on 18th May, throughout that weekend, or even longer.

The diversity of proposals reflects the variety of museums and their collections, involving different audiences in the process. According to ICOM, in the 2023 edition, 37,000 museums participated in the event, belonging to 158 countries and territories.

ICOM presents a theme for each edition related to some Sustainable Development Goals. This way, society and museum professionals can reflect on and work on that particular focus. These have been the themes of recent editions:

  • 2024: Museums, Education, and Research
  • 2023: Museums, Sustainability, and Well-being
  • 2022: The Power of Museums
  • 2021: The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine
  • 2020: Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion
  • 2019: Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition
  • 2018: Hyperconnected Museums: New Approaches, New Publics

Over the years, International Museum Day has experienced significant growth in public participation. However, it has also sparked debates about inclusivity or changing audience expectations. In many cities, opening doors to some museums generates long queues that day, while for the rest of the year, we find empty halls.

How a museum can make the most of International Museum Day

IMD aims to foster cooperation among museums, stimulate creativity, and highlight the importance of these institutions as centres of education and dialogue.

Therefore, a good practice may be to schedule working sessions around the annual theme to analyze it globally and locally within the museum with a critical view and continuous improvement.

Special activities and open doors can attract an audience that does not visit museums frequently, so they are an excellent opportunity to reach more people and earn their loyalty as regular visitors. Organizing concerts, screenings, or performances related to the museum's collection often involves this type of audience, bringing culture to them from other perspectives.

In summary, International Museum Day offers a unique opportunity to celebrate cultural diversity and the value of preserving our heritage. Museums, as guardians of history and art, are the protagonists in this celebration, inviting communities worldwide to participate in the exploration and appreciation of cultural heritage.


International Council of Museums - The global museum network [online]. International Council of Museums. [Accessed 13th March, 2024]. Available at: