Monday, April 20, 2015

More of the Same? Different? Deeper? What Should a Museum Do?

On Easter Sunday, I visited the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life in L'viv.  It's in a city park, just a short tram ride from the center.  And once there, I found an audience that any of your museums would love to have.  Who did I see?

  • Young teenagers on their own
  • Older teenagers, hanging out and playing the guitar
  • Families
  • Older couples
  • Hipsters

Many of these people, as you can see from the photographs, were wearing some version of traditional Ukrainian dress, as is customary on holidays here (and to me, on some increase since the Revolution of 2014).

And what were all these people doing?  That's the interesting part.  Very few of them were doing what we think museum visitors "should" be doing--that is to say, looking at objects and learning about the past.  They were listening to music, making music, dancing, strolling around (it's a beautiful area), playing games, picnicking, talking, enjoying.   If I were categorizing them in terms of Falk and Dierking's visitor identities I would say I saw all of these:

  • Explorers
  • Facilitators
  • Experience Seekers
  • Professionals/Hobbyists 
  • Rechargers 
  • Cultural Affinity
I think the largest categories were facilitators (parents and grandparents), rechargers and cultural affinity.   The museum is a huge success by attendance measures:  over the three day Easter weekend, more than 25,000 people visited, a large percentage of their 125,000 annual visitation.  I loved watching the people, but I found myself on this visit frustrated (probably the only one) by wanting to know more and not getting it.  My good friend and colleague Eugene Chervony, deputy director of the museum,  and I talked about the challenge of balancing the kind of social visitor wants and needs that we can see, with the opportunity to dive a bit deeper into a more complex understanding of western Ukrainian traditional culture.  The conversation sent me back to Nina Simon's posts on the event-driven museum--her museum's process of becoming a place where people come because something is happening.  Are successful events self-fulfilling beasts, always consuming--and providing--more?  How can we deepen experiences at this kind of event, or encourage visitors to return another time for a different kind of experience?

The Museum of Folk Architecture and Life has incredible collections, and they will soon begin digitizing them and putting them on the web.  That's one way for someone like me to dive deeper. But the experience of walking into historic spaces and having conversations with interpreters is something that rarely happens here (except for this great breadmaker, below).   Eugene is beginning the process of visitor surveys to learn more to inform this process, and we both suspect that the answer is not necessarily technologically driven, but rather ways for visitors to access information through human resources (although technological solutions are surely possible).

So I hope the next time I visit (or the time after that) that I still see all of the same enjoyment that was so evident on Easter but also that learners like me and this curious girl below, who very carefully was checking out a list of objects and matching them with the object itself, can go a bit deeper.

More of the Same?  Different?  Deeper?  Perhaps all of the above.

No comments: