In light of the recent discussion about the ‘suckiness’ of museums for teenagers and the response from the museum community I think we should take a minute to talk about the audience groups that are not getting the most out of their museum visits. Teenagers. Latinos. Low-Income Families. The list goes on.
A recent conversation with Allison Jessing at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum brought up the point that audiences are shifting. Visitors are getting older and dying. If we don’t appeal to wider communities and the younger generation like the friends of Howard Hwang (Why Museums Suck), what will be left of our institutions in the coming years?
Many museum people are saying that interactive, participatory exhibits are the answer. In fact, one of the only positive things that Howard Hwang writes about is that the Skirball Cultural Center “had…various multimedia that were very pleasing to the eyes.” Does he mean that he interacted with some sort of media while he was there? I hope so.
But we all know we’ve seen some terrible interactive elements in museums (just think of that broken down touchscreen). Here’s what I’ve learned about how to best engage diverse audiences with interactive elements:
-Give visitors social experiences with their involvement
-Don’t pressure visitors into participating in a certain way
-Give them some structure, but not too many confines
-Break down the barriers; include multiple languages
-Make sure visitors know how and when their information will be used
Will these things help engage the people that think museums suck? What others need to be added?
Interview with Allison Jessing, Auditorum Programs Manager at the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, November 7, 2012
John Falk, The Museum Visitor Experience: Who Visits, Why and to What Effect, in Reinventing the Museum edited by Gail Anderson (Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK: Altamira Press, 2012).
Nina Simon, Principles of Participation (Museum 2.0, 2010)