Our last several posts on how individuals connect with and create meaning for themselves in museums have been thought provoking for us, not just because of our research and what we shared, but because of the comments that we have received from many of you on the blog, by phone, and in person. You have asked us great questions, challenged our assumptions, and sought out clarification.
Our overall thesis, coming out of this series, is that museums have the capacity to create truly meaningful, even transformative experiences for our visitors, and that museums need to engender more meaningful experiences if they are going to differentiate themselves, and thrive, in an increasingly competitive environment. We hope this series has provided you food for thought on how to go about doing just that.
So to wrap up this series, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
- Meaning is only one, albeit important, lens. This research project looked through the lens of individual meaning-making in museums, but understanding the social aspect of visiting a museum with family and/or friends and the educational role of museums are also essential. Original objects appear to be crucial for the majority of the deepest museum experiences we recorded, but they are likely not as crucial to the social experience. Similarly, hands-on experiences are likely to be much more important to learning outcomes than what we saw for hands-on experiences in this work.
- Visitors don’t always explicitly tell us what they need. That is, we are noting a gap between what people explicitly say they want in museum visits and what they actually found meaning in. Sometimes people just don’t know how to articulate what they want, so they tell us what they can identify and share, and leave much unsaid. Sussing out those unsaid, yet important, bits is what we are obsessed about so we can help our clients deliver those experiences as well as the experiences the visitors explicitly say they want.
- Skilled interpretation is crucial. While original objects are clearly important to many meaningful museum experiences, it isn’t just a matter of having a bunch of stuff out on display. The objects have to share a compelling narrative that engenders empathy, thus creating meaning and possibly triggering change in how people think and behave.
The research we shared represents only the tip of iceberg, and through this and our client work we will continue to push further and help our clients deliver truly meaningful experiences to their visitors while also pursuing further research on the other, vital, lenses of social engagement and education.
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).
Photo credit: Museo Reina Sofía