This past week, I was in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, beginning a new project for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. They've opened a new headquarters with dedicated space in the lobby area for a history exhibition. The RNC is the oldest police force in North America, with a proud history. They've put together a volunteer committee of retirees and working policemen and raised funds to do the exhibit, highlighting a fascinating collection of objects and images. It wasn't surprising to me when I asked who the exhibit was for, getting responses like: constables, school groups, maybe tourists who wander over from The Rooms, the provincial museum next door. Just what I expected.
But then I got a response I've never heard any museum person give anywhere. Our audience, said one committee member, "is people under stress. We see good people here on their worst days." At most museums, I think, we see people on their good days, not on the day their car was stolen, for instance. What a challenge for designer Melanie Lethbridge and me. We have to tell a complicated story--one of labor strikes, of sectarian violence, of devastating fires and more--in ways that connect both with those who have a deep pride in this particular history--and at the same time--reach out to those people who are perhaps bored, mad or more, waiting in a police lobby. It's a different experience than a memorial museum and it's one I think we'll puzzle at for a while, to find a successful approach.
Big on social media? 25,000 Twitter followers--that's almost 5% of the population of the province. So big on social media that they were just featured on a Social Spotlight website analyzing social media campaigns. My favorite element of their ongoing work? They're funny: they sent out an all points bulletin for summer last July when it was cold all month; they checked out a Delorean for speeding on Back to the Future Day.
My Newfoundland lessons from last week? Understand your visitors emotional selves, be open, and have fun. Thanks RNC.