Making Museums Participatory

The paradigm shift in museums has caused them to be much more education oriented. This focus on education needs to include incorporating more aspects of visitor participation in museums. Visitors are much more engaged when they can do something instead of simply read or look at an exhibit. Nina Simon’s book The Participatory Museum explores this idea. Not only are visitors more engaged while they are at museums, but they think about what they have learned and incorporate it into their daily lives significantly more outside of the museum.

A case study depicting the importance of participation comes from the Free2Choose exhibit at the Anne Frank House. After touring the house, visitors enter a modern building with further exhibits and information. In this particular exhibit, visitors watch a short video about a topic, (such as if students be allowed to wear headscarves to school), and the visitors vote yes or no. The screen shows how past visitors have voted. Seeing how everyone is voting could reaffirm the visitor’s beliefs (if everyone voted in a similar way), or make her or him reconsider their opinions long after their visit if the results were the opposite of what the visitor chose.

What are you thoughts on participation in museums? How much participation is too much? Would you like to participate in the Free2Choose exhibit?

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