Museums are cultural epicentres, whether they are as large as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or as small as the International Museum of Vinegar in Roslyn, SD There are approximately 35,000 active museums in the United States alone, and in 2018, more people visited a museum than attending a professional sporting event.
There is so much to learn and experience in museums, which is a big part of their appeal; but it can also create museum fatigue for visitors, where interest wanes sharply as people browse the exhibits. Museums do their best to keep visitors engaged, and guests themselves want value for money, but it’s hard when visitors can only spend less than half an hour at each exposure before losing interest.
“I think it’s something real,” says Tamara Onyschuk, head of exhibition planning at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Visitors are figuratively hitting a wall, whether mental or physical.”
Fatigue Fighting Museum
Many of the most popular museums in the world are large installations. For example, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, is the most visited natural history museum in the world and blankets 1.5 million square feet from space. And this space is full of fascinating presentations and exhibits.
“You take in a lot of information,” says Onyschuk. Ample space is a perfect recipe for visitor fatigue, but museums are trying to combat it.
Within a certain exhibit, museums can vary the displays that visitors interact with to help them combat fatigue and stay engaged. “You’re trying to mix different experiences – you’re trying to provide seating for people,” says Onyschuk. “Whether reading first […]so you’re physically doing an interactive activity or maybe you’re sitting down to watch a video.
Another benefit of varied displays is that they keep visitors on their toes. A 2018 study found that visitors fatigued faster when they could anticipate the upcoming content of an exhibit.
“Lately, we’ve also tried to look at how much text we put in,” says Onyschuk. “We don’t make encyclopedias on the walls.”
The environment can also play a big role in the mood of visitors, which museums can use to their advantage. “Some [environments] are more to energize; some are calmer to be more contemplative,” says Onyschuk.
Create a theme
When it comes to museum exhibits, whether permanent or temporary, the goal is not to deliver a complete dissertation to visitors. Instead, the focus is often on a core concept or theme. “You basically start with a big idea, like what you want everyone to achieve,” says Onyschuk. “An exhibition is a tale. You really want to connect with people.
To establish these links with visitors, exhibition designers put themselves in their shoes. It starts early in the design process, when museum staff conduct surveys with visitors, learning which subjects they would most like to see featured in an exhibit.
“We do a lot of subject testing,” says Onyschuk. “We are carefully reviewing this data. […] You may need to readjust the experience of this exhibit, taking into account visitor feedback. »
And the evaluation process does not end after an exhibition opens. For example, the American Museum of Natural History uses an extensive evaluation procedure to evaluate its exhibits and educational program, with guidelines that are publicly available. This transparency and accountability reflects a fundamental truth about museums: they belong to the communities in which they are located.
“We want to have a welcoming environment,” says Onyschuk. “It’s the community museum.”
For museums, especially large ones like the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto or the Field Museum in Chicago, the goal is not to “solve” museum fatigue. Rather, the goal is to create a warm and welcoming environment that encourages visitors to return again and again.
Indeed, forming a lifelong learner is a mission for many museums, such as the art institute of chicago. And museums are reflecting on their role in their communities and in the world, following the controversies surrounding stolen items.
The next time you visit a museum and feel tired or overwhelmed, find a place to sit down, relax and reflect on all the work that has gone into making you feel comfortable and welcomed there. – and how museums are always working to make everyone feel the same way.