It’s a word we tend to use a lot but never really define as we also spend a lot of time pretending to think like the ‘user’ or ‘visitor’ – mapping out ways for the them to see the exhibition/collection with a sprinkle of ‘entertaining’ activities.
However, us humans, we’re a funny lot. We don’t always behave as we’re expected. That could be due to translation (language barriers), rebelliousness (raises hand), miscommunication or boredom. Actually, feel free to insert your reason as I’m sure I haven’t covered them all.
As someone fortunate enough to travel internationally and to visit a lot of museums, art galleries, national houses/parks, I get to see a lot of different ways the sector tries to interact with the visitors. Traditionally, we often see:
- Family Backpacks
- Audio Guides
There are more but that’s to give you an idea. (Signage is one of the biggest areas I feel we are failing. Often walking through the front door is a big step but the journey to the front of house or reception is not always as obvious as we like to believe but we’ll leave that for another post.)
I love a bit of anthropology in a museum. Sometimes I’ll stand outside with my headphones in giving the impression I’m waiting for someone. Than I’ll go inside and continue to have my headphones on as I wander around – basically I am listening in on conversations but they don’t know that. It’s amazing how people will talk freely when they don’t think anyone is listening…
A typical scenario is a family (of various size, for this I also mean grandparents, friends with kids, etc) that enter and try to figure out where the starting point is. Or a map. In fairness to museums, often there are wonderful Front of House that try to assist and breakdown any barriers but it’s often the family that are feeling to awkward to ask for help.
The HAM Way
When I was in Helsinki I noticed Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) had post-it notes for visitors to take when they enter. They were in the middle of the room on a standalone pedestal (and yes there are front of house people there also). No barriers, no awkwardness. People knew to go and take one. They were also in 4 languages (Finnish, Russian, Chinese and English as they are the top visitors).
It was such a genius concept on it’s own but the notes are so clever I had to share! I’m sure HAM wouldn’t mind anyone using these ideas (always best to credit them) or better yet – reach out to them and tell them how awesome they are!
Don’t Look at the Art Works: Look at the frames of the artworks. What would an artwork look like if the frames were different? Or if you’d take the frame off completely? Is the frame part of the piece of not? Read the rest of this entry »Tags: art galleries, families, HAM, helsinki, museums, participation