Apr. 8, 2007

Museums’ Return Visitors

During a class visit to the University of Western Ontario’s MacIntosh Gallery last month, the gallery’s curator mentioned that she was committed to create programs that served the university’s student population. This statement got me thinking: A museum that serves its audience successfully is probably one that offers an experience that will make the visitor want to return to that museum. (I suppose that an exceptionally successful museum then would make visitors want to visit other museums as well!)

Interaction with a rotating selection of artifacts might be one way to keep visitors coming back for more. Although it might not be possible for every visitor to physically interact with all the artifacts in a collection, there is the option of allowing a museum interpreter to demonstrate an artifacts use. (Alexander, Museums in Motion, Ch. 11) Open-air museums frequently demonstrate how period crafts and trades were carried out, and perhaps there are artifacts in the collections of indoor museums that could still be operated. If a museum were to come up with a rotation of artifacts in use that changed on a weekly basis, visitors might return to see a particular item in action. This would also create an opportunity for the museum interpreter to convey more information not included on the text panels to those visitors.

Of course, the stress of operation and impact on nearby artifacts must be taken into consideration, showing visitors how different artifacts worked might be a great way to keep people coming back to a museum again.