The need to provide an ‘experience’ is a driving force that brands across the world are capitalizing on. Be it from selling a luxury car to something as every day as banking, it is the ‘experience quotient’ that has become a key part of every brand’s strategy. Should museums be any different? Faced with the great ‘consumerization of everything’, museums of today have to evolve from being passive spaces into places that evoke thought and inspire action. In one of our blog posts, we had written about why museums today must inspire in order to stay relevant. As we move further into the ‘experience economy’, museums have to reinvent themselves in order to provide experiences, inspire action and leave visitors with amazing memories. In this blog, we take a look at some aspects that can help museums create these inspirational experiences for their visitors.
A museum’s architecture is inextricably linked to the experience of its exhibits and can become a powerful motivational force to inspire its visitors. Museum architecture can evolve from being just a part of cultural memory and transform itself into an expressive entity that creates a dialogue between its contents and its visitors. Incorporating new, contemporary and even theatrical elements and weaving them into the architectural fabric of the museum helps in creating a visual destination that can stay relevant in the age of cultural pluralism. Museum architecture has to explore the connection between its exhibits and its visitors within the socio-economic context without overwhelming the content. The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida with its entrance of frozen lava of blue glass is sometimes cited as an example of architecture drowning the artwork. On the other hand, the Louvre’s glass pyramid, an effort towards the modernization of the Louvre was called a folly when it was launched but soon established itself. It created a working and welcoming reception area that became the connection between the previously disjointed galleries. The glass used in the pyramid is so clear that if a visitor peers through it the perception of the colour of the existing buildings remains unaltered. This audacious addition to a historical structure evokes a sense of staying in the here and now, even while journeying through a bygone age, and, perhaps, just as importantly, it created a sense of a continuous experience.
Does technology belong in museums? In today’s world, technology is becoming quite central to creating museum experiences for the digitally connected millennial population. Technologies such as 3D imaging, haptic interfaces, touchscreens, etc. are becoming tools to make museums more engaging for its viewers. However, given that museums are places for reflection and a space to lose yourself in masterpieces, technology can also distract the user from these reflective experiences. Instead of losing oneself in the exhibit, one can easily get overwhelmed by the technology. Does technology, then, serve the “inspirational” purpose? Technology can be used to create experiences that inspire only when it does so without compromising the integrity of the museum experience. Technology elements can be used to tell a story and create meaningful and interactive experiences that increase visitor engagement and promote meaningful interaction. The use of technology thus has to be such that it ‘supports’ the entire museum experience by making the visitor feel a participant of the exhibit rather than a spectator.
The content curation of a museum not only impacts its relevance but also its relatability. It is only when a piece of artistic content becomes relatable that it evokes sentiments that generate inspiration. Instead of displaying mute artistic displays, museums have to look for avenues that build immersive experiences that compel a visitor to reflect and think for themselves. Content experiences should not just be restricted to the enjoyable but extend to the uncomfortable as well. Designing content experiences that create tangible journeys in the visitor’s mind and stimulate feelings…feelings of happiness, anguish, fear, dejection, elation and the like, make the display subjects closer to reality. Making the subjects of display more real and human, help in building relatability. This will take museums from being passive spaces to places that encourage reflection previously not encountered and this will then inspire action.
To open your mind, you sometimes need to close your eyes. The use of empty space in a museum can help it define itself and help the visitors shape and interpret the content of the displays. It is important to not only focus on ‘what’ to display but also ‘how’ to display it. The use of space, the fluidity, the lighting, all contribute to creating a personal connection with the visitor. However, sometimes, it also happens that the essence of the displays gets lost in the momentum of moving from one exhibit to the other. What museums need to look at is creating spaces for pause. Such intentional omission can aid the visitor find meaning in a vacuum. By creating negative spaces within the museum, the visitors get an opportunity to ponder and reflect and process information before moving from one display to the other. This break can be the starting point of an internal conversation that can compel action in the minds of the visitors.
It is true that not every object or artifact in a museum has the power to excite. The museum experience thus has to go beyond just observation and evolve to an exciting and inspirational experience…one that remains with the visitor well after leaving the physical premises of the museum.
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