As museum professionals, we often get caught up in the things that matter most to us: collections, exhibits, educational programs, archives, research, etc. But what about the things that matter most to our visitors? In their book, The Museum Experience Revisited, Falk and Dierking urge us to consider “the museum as gestalt.” That is, to think about the entire experience of visiting the museum, including the parts that are traditionally considered “non-content.” This includes things like cafés, gift shops, restrooms, accessibility, and front-of-line staff. Falk and Dierking want museums to consider how these aspects play into visitor experience and how they might be used to advance the mission and encourage education.
In addition to improving the overall experience, successful “non-content” can make museums more inviting to new audiences. In my interview with Patty Edmonson, Interpretation Specialist at the Cleveland Museum of Art, we discussed how good amenities and staff can make museums feel more comfortable and welcoming. Patty mentioned she “think[s] that museums that have a combination guard/gallery guide can be a really successful model versus someone who is just yelling at you.” Falk and Dierking also suggest rethinking job descriptions of front-of-house staff to include a more education-based focus. That way, in addition to keeping an eye on the collections, staff can engage visitors in conversation and activities.
So how do museums go about rethinking “non-content?” Whose job is it to see that the mission is carried out in every aspect of the museum?