This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the November/December 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.
My ideal museum experience is memorable. It requires only one cool exhibit experience where I spend significant time, engaged in a way that taps into previous interests and expands my thinking. It makes me wonder about something and allows me to explore an idea viscerally, using my hands—even my full body. Connecting with others (family, friends, or a museum educator) around the phenomenon is important, too, as it shapes and grows my own perspective. Yet I have to own the activity, by directing next steps and reflecting on what I did and learned. Ideally, I’ve embodied a concept, had my interest piqued, and am primed to explore further. In fact, my ideal museum experience is more than memorable. I’ve come to care.
Tracey Wright, senior researcher and developer, TERC, Cambridge, Massachusetts
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is developing a 10,000-square-foot (929-square-meter) education space that is equal parts collections vault, lab, field station, and town square where visitors will build their own ideal museum experiences. With Slover-Linett Strategies, we asked our visitors what that meant to them. They told us that their ideal museum experiences are dynamic, immersive, personalized, relevant, one-of-a-kind, and surprising. We’ve built a process to develop experiences that deliver on these expectations and will constantly test them in the education space, learning with our visitors about ideal museum experiences and when we know we’re achieving them.
Shari Werb, director of education and outreach, and the Education Center Team, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History
Affordable parking. Bathrooms that are easy to find. And plenty of floor staff who are knowledgeable and excited about the content while being committed to making the visitors comfortable in the museum.
Erika Kiessner, senior exhibit developer, Aesthetic Studios, Toronto
The key may be not to focus on federal mandates or broadly defined needs (though I know it’s difficult because they pay the bills) but rather to find out who your visitors are and what they say they want, and add your expertise and experience to interpret those needs. This may require the critical skill of being able to step out of the “professional” shoes and think about what each of us would want from a museum through the lens of our own consumer/learner experiences. We are not very different. Just pay attention to what drives your unique visitors in your unique institution. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Hever Velázquez, research and evaluation associate, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland
The above statements represent the opinions of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of their institutions or of ASTC.
About the image: At the Mobius Science Center in Spokane, Washington, visitors move a ball using only the power of their minds. Headbands equipped with metal sensors detect brainwaves, which become elevated with relaxation. Photo courtesy Hamilton Studios