Last fall Susie Wilkening was
invited to guest lecture for a museum studies class at Tufts University. Upon
learning that students were asked to "mystery shop" the visitor
amenities at a local museum, and write up reports, she invited the authors of
the best papers to write up their experience on our blog. Welcome to our
guest bloggers, Tufts students Jeanne Koles and Sarah Marcoux.
The mission: Visit the Currier Museum of Art, located in Manchester, NH, incognito and secretly analyze their visitor services. Is it easy to find? Does it make you feel welcome? Is the staff nice? Are the restrooms clean?
The Currier Museum of Art passed our secret test with flying colors. Its use of architecture and exhibition design make visits fun and enlightening, the staff is friendly and welcoming, and yes, the bathrooms are clean.
Secret shoppers are notoriously nitpicky, so in the name of over-analyzation, we have a few (very minor) complaints because greater awareness of visitor comfort, interests, and knowledge, specifically for its constituents who may be less at ease in museums, would make any museum visit even better for everyone.
Getting to the Museum
Getting to the museum by car is easy, with excellent signs and directions. The parking lot can fill up, but there is some on-street parking as well. If you prefer public transportation, bus service is infrequent, so plan ahead.
The Currier provides many amenities to make visiting easy and comfortable. When we think of ease and comfort, we think of three things: restrooms, food services, and seating. The two main bathrooms available in the lobby are handicapped accessible “family bathrooms”. While clean and fully stocked, one did not have a changing table and it was a challenge for one surveyor to change her one-year old’s diaper.
For visitors ready for a break, the Currier operates the colorful and visually exciting Winter Garden Café, a casual and comfortable in-house restaurant that offers vegetarian and kid-friendly options at affordable prices.
Seating in the galleries was spotty, however. Constant standing is uncomfortable and may be a deterrent to lengthy visits, especially for the elderly, handicapped, or those who are simply tired; the museum should consider adding more seating.
The Currier provides a high level of customer service. Most staff persons with whom both surveyors interacted behaved in an incredibly welcoming and friendly manner. The front desk employee greeted visitors with eye contact and a smile. Security guards, while an obvious presence, were unobtrusive and pleasant. In fact, during one evaluation, more than one security guard held the door to walk into the galleries. There was only one sour note concerning the staff. A tour guide did not introduce herself, spoke quietly even after a visitor asked her to talk louder, and did not take off her sunglasses during the tour. This was the exception in an overwhelmingly polite and pleasant group of people, who should be commended for their attention and thoughtfulness.
Presentation of Information
The visual identity of the Currier is simple, strong, and consistently used in the website, in printed materials, on signage, and more. The visual identity is much like the museum itself: creative and professional without being stuffy.
The Currier’s website is a fantastic introduction to what the museum has to offer. It is easily navigable and has a wealth of useful information–everything from hours and driving directions to an online database of its collections. The website also includes a family guide with suggestions for how parents can make their visit exciting and less stressful.
Inside the galleries, the object labels are well lit and generally easy-to-read. On the negative side, several of the more detailed labels are full of jargon and technical art terms. For example, the labels include vocabulary like “organic or geometric forms.” Omitting a simple explanation in favor of a more complicated one may appear off-putting and difficult, or hold no significance for the visitor.
The Currier Museum of Art strives to offer a positive experience for its visitor before, during, and after the visit. An appreciation for comfort, education, enjoyment, and inspiration is reflected in the design of the building, the warmth of the staff, and the exhibitions, programs, and amenities on offer. Yet even a great museum can always be improving, and continue to be conscious of the difficulties of cracking the museum code. The museum should continue to value visitor feedback and implement change as practicable in response to this feedback, thus keeping the savvy and critical visitor satisfied.
Overall, the Currier's commitment to a welcoming, enriching, fun museum experience should be applauded. The verdict from these secret shoppers: two thumbs up!
- Sarah Marcoux and Jeanne Koles