If you think back to your most meaningful museum experience, what was it that made it so meaningful? Was it something you saw, something you did, or a mixture? Did some story just connect with you in some way? Or did you learn something new that was just interesting?
Over the past few posts we have been sharing some of our latest research, this time on what makes a museum experience particularly meaningful for adult visitors. That is, we are interested in how adults engage emotionally and intellectually with museum content, and what the common themes are.
Additionally, we believe that the museums that are able to engage their visitors on a deeper level will be the ones that have a more sustainable future, especially in an increasingly competitive landscape. (We are also very interested in the social/family aspect of museum visits, but that is a different topic and study.)
When we analyzed the nearly 4,000 written-in experiences shared by our survey respondents, there were three big themes that emerged, as well as one ginormous one.
First up, the three big themes:
- Connection to content. A significant number of respondents felt a deep connection with either the stories shared with them or had an aesthetic experience that touched them emotionally. In some cases, the connection was inexplicable or surprising.
I was inspired by a trip to Ellis Island in my early 20s and felt such a connection to the early immigrants that it has stayed with me for years. I . . . would love to go back and take my kids so that they could see it and so that I could reexperience it . . .
- Information learned. Some respondents just simply geek out at the stuff they get to learn . . . those fascinating tidbits that are fun or open their minds to new ideas.
All museums I have attended through life have provided visually stimulating information and ideas - whether through the creativity of art, information of science or history. It helps open my mind and helps appreciate life all the more.
- Hands-on experiences. Not just for kids, many adults seek out and enjoy being hands-on as well, and those experiences can be meaningful as well.
Visiting Hagley Museum when they demonstrated life during the early duPont years through hands on experiences . . . Allowing visitors to participate made it more meaningful and concrete how different life was back then.
But what about that ginormous theme? Frankly, it left the other themes in the dust.
Original objects. Yes, that’s right. It’s the artifacts, artworks, and objects we preserve and share with visitors that is most likely to hit their emotional core and create meaning and response in them.
Respondents were two times more likely to mention an original object than information learned, and it also appeared over four times more than hands-on experiences.
It was a sketch of some hands that I saw in an art museum. The world seemed to fall away around me as I viewed it. I could have stayed there all day - staring at it and studying it . . .
Yet here is where we also were scratching our heads, because in a field-wide project from 2010 we found that less than half of regular museum goers said they prefer object-based experiences in museums, even among regular visitors to object-heavy history and art museums.
Thus, it appears there is tension between what regular museum-goers explicitly state about their preferences about museums, and what is actually happening, deep down, creating meaning and sometimes even transformation. We’ll come back to this tension later this fall.
But as Reach Advisors continues to examine this extremely large cache of data, and building on our existing qualitative client work, we are repeatedly finding ourselves coming back to the idea that original objects appear to be the most common, fundamental building block of meaningful, even transformational, experiences for our visitors, both adults and children (as we saw in our recent memory work, and as we’ll come back to in a few weeks).
Although we'll return to the subject of objects later this fall, our next post will look at this data cache one more time, examining the type of experience respondents found most meaningful (that is, exhibition, program, or special event).
What do you think? Simply click on “comments” below to share your thoughts (and if you are reading this from your e-mail subscription, go to our blog to comment).