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Museums Should Encourage Exploration Through Socialization

October 7, 2009

Orange County Library’s Guide by Cell audio tour

How often do you visit a museum alone? Me? I honestly can’t recall if I ever have. I usually find someone I can talk into seeing the latest art exhibit or science exhibit with me. And that’s part of the joy of seeing the exhibit — being able to talk about it with someone.

I was at Cranbrook Institute of Science Friday evening. It was the first time I had been there in probably close to 10 years and not much had changed…except I noticed a seemingly small addition to one of the text descriptions. A phone number with a call to action to use your mobile and hear more about the exhibit. I didn’t take advantage of this because I was trying to keep a rambunctious 2-year-old from running too far out of my sight. But it was very intriguing.

For The Pre-Planners
There’s been a growing trend for museums to offer audio guides as free podcasts. MoMa has a pretty comprehensive, growing collection of both audio and video guides via iTunes. Not sure when I’ll see the collection in person, but I’m tempted to listen to the podcast nonetheless. That poses a problem for spontaneous visitors (as was my case with the science museum trip with my son).

For the Spontaneous
I often get sucked into renting the laborious, sometimes over-priced audio guides. However, I’d love to ditch those for something more portable, personal and… spontaneous.

Say you are browsing a museum and stumble upon a piece that truly intrigues you and the write up just doesn’t do it justice. You don’t want to know everything about every piece in the museum. But maybe it’s just that one piece. Your mobile phone is resting quietly in your pocket. Bingo.

If the information on the mobile recording is comprehensive, I would love to see this in more museums that you only visit once in an eon. It would have especially come in handy on my recent trip to Rome and Florence. Before I left, I downloaded Rick Steve’s podcasts on The Roman Forum, The Sistine Chapel, The Academia and The Uffizi Gallery. We visited even more museums than that and more than once I was left wondering what significance the piece I was looking at held.

What’s Missing
Still, whatever happened to unguided immersions? Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” I realize that guides are meant to entice more people to visit and understand what’s being shown at a museum. Why stop there? Instead of only education, museums should be encouraging immersion, conversation.

Here are some ways they could prompt conversation about your visit:
1. With tickets, give visitors a conversation starter. Something like, “What’s your favorite piece and why?” You could even have them text their answer to display on the museum’s website.
2. Create an app that uses the GPS on your phone track your route thru the museum. It then updates your Facebook status telling your friends what you’re looking at with picture of a main piece in that area. It also asks them what they think of the piece.
3. Allow visitors to text their thoughts about key pieces from their phone. Reviews are displayed on a video monitor in the lobby or cafe of the museum and also on the museum’s website and social properties.

Increasing Awareness
Talking about the exhibits increases awareness, leads to exposure. This is good for the museums, curators and artists. Aren’t you more likely to make it to a special exhibit if someone you know is talking about it?

When you’re visiting a museum this weekend — yes, please step away from your screen and get out there and take in an exhibit or two — take a look at how many people are actually talking with someone else about the work.

What are more ways curators could make their exhibits more social?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.

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From → in-person, threeminds

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