Jessica Gelt of the Los Angeles Times recently explored what the museum of the future might look like in “How museums are adapting to ‘selfie culture’.”
As she wrote, “The museum of the future functions as seamlessly as an Apple store, makes recommendations like Amazon, speaks in hashtags, loves Tumblr and is ready for its selfie.” This points towards a concept we’ve explored before: audience engagement is the key to the future.
But how can museums address this new role as “sharers” while remaining “keepers” of our cultural heritage? Can museums balance the needs of technology-loving visitors with the needs of visitors who prefer to quietly ponder the artifacts within?
Jessica thinks they can, and she’s noticed three ways that museums are balancing these new roles. Below are our top three takeaways.
#1: Mobile apps can unobtrusively increase engagement while keeping the museum atmosphere welcoming for all.
LACMA recently launched a mobile app that combines audio tours, a searchable database of their collections, and push notifications about interactive opportunities. The Broad is also experimenting with mobile apps — including an audio guide for children narrated by LeVar Burton.
Other museums are using mobile technology like iPads and touch tables to engage guests with more information about what they are viewing or to tell first-person stories inspired by the collection. They’re replacing the traditional labels with access to as much or as little information as the visitor desires.
#2: Good gallery design keeps its focal point on the object — and uses technology to supplement that experience, not eclipse it.
Engagement is a balancing act between technology and the object itself. Museum still worry about “Disneyfication,” and rightly so — with so much accessible in our phones, we risk losing the experience of the objects.
MOCA uses its website to communicate detailed information about its collection and special features, such as discussions with artists. This helps to engage audiences before and after the visit, leaving the visit itself to focus on engaging with the physical collection.
During Museum Hack tours, we keep the focus on the objects through storytelling and interaction with the objects, facilitated through technology (and yes, selfies). It’s a fun way for visitors to share their museum experience while recreating art through “living pictures.” The product is not only a great photo, but also the story behind that photo: Why did they engage with this particular artwork? The story behind the selfie enables visitors to be “sharers,” by telling others about fun memories from their visit, while also “keeping” the story of the artwork, and its relevance, intact.
#3: Experimentation is key.
Museums need to meet audiences where they already are — and that’s on the web and social media. Visitors want live people and more interactive experiences, and museums can deliver this — if they’re willing to experiment.
The Natural History Museum puts education first, experimenting with technologies to engage younger visitors. They’ve implemented touch tables and an interactive multimedia gallery called Nature Lab, where children can touch a 65-million-year-old dinosaur bone and engage on a mock paleontological dig.
At the Huntington in San Marino, visitors engage in the virtual experience of firing an 18th-century potpourri vase, learning about ceramics and design while having fun.
The key at both museums has been presenting information in layers — allowing for a range of experiences, from simply browsing collections to engaging with in-gallery activities to finding out more information via apps and websites.
And this layered approach works, allowing visitors to go as deep as they want to in crafting their personal museum experience.
“How museums are adapting to ‘selfie culture’” by Jessica Gelt was originally published in the Los Angeles Times on October 25, 2015.