This week’s topic focuses on museum interaction. Interaction requires there be two sets of people: those that walk in through the front entrance and those that come in through the staffs. Museums and their staff have to put out a front – both digitally and physically – that looks inviting to the visitor. In return the visitor will be interested enough to walk through the front doors. There are many issues and problems that prevent this from occurring as seamlessly as a person walking into a ball game. People go to a ball game to have a fun day out – purely recreational. They often leave the stadium forgetting most of what they saw aside for the final score. Museums, on the other hand, are not only concerned about the engagement during the actual physical visit, but also about the visitor’s experience in preparation for the visit, as well as a post visit- what additional knowledge they left with that was not there before.

The visitor’s experience, therefore, is very important. Because museums are sometimes viewed as cold, quiet and snooty, it is very hard to get people to walk in and feel welcomed. Museums need to change their image from the past, where shushing patrons can be the norm, to the museum of the future that encourages taking pictures, engaging in discussion and dialogue, and wanting there to be noise and interaction with patrons and all the information that is in front of them. While many museums try to move forward, i.e. tagging photographs with the Terra Cotta warriors, many museums still have bans on cameras and any outside digital intrusions. They do not believe in being “digitally integrated.” Additionally, museums have always worked for the community as opposed to with the community. Some museums have advanced and allotted money and space to exhibits that showcases the public and their stories – curated by the people. For the people, by the people. But there are still many ways for museums to vamp up their visitors’ experience, like by adding outlets for cell phone or making people friendly apps. For example, museums like the Tate, have even branched outside of their physical building with apps like the Magic Tate Ball- an app that gives you art wherever you are.

However, we cannot always compare the technological boom that’s occurring in a museum to the technological boom that occurs in the outside world. As Jack Ludden put it, “Each museum’s collection is unique. Museums do not want a “cookbook approach” to aggregating and disseminating information. When data is well managed, users can interact with it in open and collaborative ways.” Museums do not always have the funding that other institutions, such as healthcare, may have. A patient in a hospital is specially treated based on their symptoms. There is no ‘one pill fits all’ diagnosis. Museums cannot change the exhibit for each and every person that visits, nor make them feel like they are the center of attention. The job of any good museum is to make the visitor feel like there is some connection between him and the staff and between him and the objects that are all around him. To achieve this job a museum must pay great attention and put great thought into their strategies for visitor engagement.

A visit to the museum is meant to be an experience that one takes away with them when they leave. But there are many things that may prevent this experience from being the best – the cultural biases the visitor bring in, why they are going and what ideas they bring in with them. The museum ,like those that visit, have similar issues – what goals are they pushing for, their purpose, and their own institutional bias – all block the user from having the best experience. Ignoring all the issues mentioned, the question still arises of what experience the museum is trying to create. Is it one where the digital world is integrated, or is it like the prison museum in London where there are no computers or connection whatsoever? To know this, museums must first figure out how big a part do they want technology to have behind the scenes? Do we want to make ourselves completely relevant to the new modern world? The Tate museum panders to those not physically wanting to come in, but rather wanting to “see” through the virtual reality and other digital platforms. Or do we want the opposite, where it’s the physical object of art that is “transformative”? The SFMOMA prides itself in having a Digital Content team that is very concerned about physical content and not about seeing the art through a screen. We must ask, does the museum want to have staff that aren’t technologically capable but then have a specific tech department to deal with all the issues regarding technology and integration, or does the museum want employees that each and everyone is capable of working with the technology and everyone can be helpful in their own area and connecting technology to it.

According to Jack Ludden, everyone should be educated about technology and everyone should be relentless in their search for innovation and new ways of education. This would seem to lean more towards the Tate methodology. However, in my opinion, where everything is new and digital, it adds a more modern bias that art from the pre-digital world would definitely not have had. The argument can be made that to take antiquated pieces of art and to modernize them by mixing in digital effects or even placing MiPads or digital medium next to it, may take away from what the original artist wanted to be seen through the piece. However, we can ignore the modern bias and chalk it up to being necessary, by saying the good of education outweighs the bad. Each and every museum must choose on their own terms what is best for them. The most important part is innovation. If a museum sees that something is not working, then those aspects should be put under the microscope and examined whether it needs to be altered or completely gotten rid of. Thus, as museums see what works best and what doesn’t, the visitors experience will evolve and people will be having a greater interaction.



One thought on “Interactions

  1. Great post, Aaron. Your ball game analogy is interesting, though sports teams spend as much time or more (and certainly more money) in planning many aspects of their visitor experience as well. From ticket purchase, entry, food choices, where beer stands are located, how many restrooms there are, etc. Retail often does the best job at visitor experience, which Disney being the prime example. Also, most people do visit museums for recreation, but I agree, not in the same way as a ball game. There’s obviously some thought as to education or why visit at all?


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