To Thine Own Audience Be True

Museum professionals anywhere will say that the most important part of a museum is their audience. If not for them, why do museums exist? But every museum brings visitors with different motivations and a myriad of expectations of their experience. Authors John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking outline seven of the most common motivations in their book, The Museum Experience Revisited, any combination of which may be experienced by any given visitor.

However, some museums attract visitors with a certain type of visit expectation. I spoke with Nicole Retzler, Assistant Curator and Exhibit Preparator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame about her museum’s audience. She said what made the Hall of Fame unique was that a large majority of visitors come with an element of pilgrimage in their motivations. Cooperstown is a fairly isolated location, and many visitors make the effort to travel here specifically to see the museum, often for a once-in-a-lifetime visit. As a result, the museum staff is pressured to make the experience worth their while and inspire them to return or encourage others to visit.

This requires the staff to purposefully create exhibits and programs that appeal to various other motivations of their audience. The Hall of Fame staff makes an effort to be as inclusive and engaging as possible by considering the diverse personal, sociocultural and physical contexts of their visitors. It’s no small challenge, but is something the Hall of Fame staff takes seriously when planning new directions for the museum.

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9 Responses to To Thine Own Audience Be True

  1. shaual96 says:

    Plenty of museums are a sort of place of pilgrimage. In our previous reading’s we’ve discussed that museums can be a sort of temple for these kinds of experience, but they could be a forum for others. Catering to these different type of museum goers can make for a really interesting experience and create a place for all people to enjoy.

  2. scalje70 says:

    It came as no surprise to me that the main source of visitors at the Baseball Hall of Fame are respectful pilgrims. After visiting the site for our class, I have developed my own opinion of their setup and exhibits. Its seems as though they have done a wonderful job in appealing to their audience and giving them the experience they seek when they walk through the doors.
    After reading this blog post, I find myself wondering how many museums focus on a appealing to just one kind of museum go-er. I’m sure it’s more than just the Hall of Fame.

  3. emily_pfeil says:

    As someone who is not particularly interested in baseball, I found the Hall of Fame surprisingly interesting. I’m am happy to hear that the staff’s efforts include attracting and engaging a larger audience than that of the pilgrim. I thought that the exhibits that pertain to societal aspects of the game, like women and African Americans in baseball as well as photography and baseball, certainly speak to a wider audience. And for those who came for the pilgrimage, I’m sure these exhibits are of interest to them too.

  4. eremy465 says:

    Pilgrimage museums have become a major part of tourism world-wide; many consider a vacation to a major city incomplete without a visit to the main museum in town. Knowing that this audience of respectful pilgrims will always be a source of visitors, are there many museums that are actually motivated to appeal to a larger array of guests, for a larger array of motivations?

  5. jehartman93 says:

    My first-ever visit to the Hall of Fame was only last week. I was hesitant to visit the museum despite its proximity and popularity because I am not a dedicated baseball fan so I assumed that the museum’s exhibits wouldn’t capture my interest. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how “accessible” the Hall of Fame made their exhibits on Women in Baseball, Negro Leagues, and Latinos in Baseball to non-fans. As a student of American Studies, I was able to connect to the baseball-related content of the museum through the lenses of women’s/gender studies, black history, and latino history. My experience at the Hall of Fame led me to believe that museums can captivate the most unexpected of visitors if they make it a priority to “universalize” the scope and content of their exhibits by spotlighting diverse voices.

  6. lucega96 says:

    I know from my own experience at the Hall of Fame, the staff is extremely welcoming and knowledgeable. I am certainly no pilgrim or baseball fan in general, but I feel comfortable whenever I go there. And I see the “pilgrims” chatting amiably with the staff. I think the staff serve the multi- purpose of welcoming, directing, and chatting with those who really want to chat about baseball!

  7. corwhe56 says:

    It is interesting learning about how the Baseball Hall of Fame deals with their visitors primary motivation being one of pilgrimage. But the love of baseball and pilgrimage as motivation crosses all age lengths. It would be fascinating to learn as well how the museum caters to every age, through the programming or exhibits. Especially since the amount of young children skyrockets during the summer months when tournaments are played in Cooperstown.

  8. armok59 says:

    I also think that the Hall of Fame does a good job appealing to more than just pilgrims. The few times I’ve been there I’ve seen so many different groups of people. Some seem to know a lot about the sport and others are much less knowledgeable. Nonetheless, all appeared to be interested and engaged. I also don’t know much about baseball, but I felt like the exhibits were set up in such a way that I was able to have an ettertaining and educational experience.

  9. welceq51 says:

    I agree with basically everyone else that the Hall of Fame does a fantastic job of appealing to a very broad and varied audience. I think the way they have managed this is by digging into the deeper cultural meaning of the sport from a different lenses on a global scale. It surprises me though that more doesn’t seem to be targeted at children, since a lot of the exhibits are tall – above my head and certainly above a child’s.

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