Monday, January 11, 2010

That's a big egg! What messages does your organization send?

One of the places I really wanted to visit in Scotland was the Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum in Glasgow.  Its redo has been much written about--and I'll write more.  But this is just a brief post about several elements at the Kelvingrove that made it so enjoyable.  These elements don't involve media installations, or expensive design--they are elements whose creation, I suspect, is embedded within the culture of the institution.

First, museum objects and interactives were installed low--so they were easy to see.  In one of the main center halls, along with a giraffe and a Spitfire, a group of big eggs were installed.  I sat for a couple minutes and watched group after group of people--old people, young people, in-between people, stop and take a look at these big eggs.   I can't even tell you what the label said about these eggs, but I do know they were were "spreadable"--their very presence made you want to point and share the egg, the giraffe, and the airplane with the people you were with.

Interactives were also installed low, with benches next to them...and interestingly, all the interactives seemed to be installed on flat, rather than slanted surfaces.   As a result, one mother felt free to set her youngest son down on the counter, while she worked with another.  It made it feel like a place to relax, rather than to feel constrained.

And finally, although there were guards at Kelvingrove, they were really unobtrusive.  You were allowed to take pictures (hooray!) and I never saw a guard ask a visitor to move back, or stop doing something.   The result wasn't that people went wild--the contrary.  It felt like the many people there during my visit--on a busy holiday week-- was a museum meant for them, a museum home.

Think about what sort of messages are embedded in the public parts of your museum--are they homey ones, that welcome people in, or ones that say, "stay away,  only for people who really know a lot!"  or "don't touch"  or "we really like it better when no one comes."    Although clearly the Kelvingrove's staff thought very long and hard about their changes,  the process can be a simple one...what could you put down low for people to look at?  Try it and see.


Anonymous said...

I've only been once to the Kelvingrove, and only had an afternoon, but I adored it! I cannot wait for my next chance to visit, and I frequently describe it to my co-workers.

One of my favourite things was the set-up of the armor and weaponry. I liked that the rapiers were displayed dynamically, and I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of natural history collections with pieces of armor which mimicked them.

Linda Norris said...

Thanks for the comment...and amazing that the weaponry was also displayed with Holocaust and other materials...I actually took a picture of the intro label in the gallery, which said "Conflict and Consequence: How we keep inventing new ways of killing people and then wonder why." Amazing place, and a number of other blog posts (with loads of photos) to come, so keep reading!