Is your museum relevant? Can your visitors relate to the objects and stories in your exhibition?
Most museums will endeavour to engage a wide range of people from different backgrounds and cultures – and that’s a tough task.
That’s not to say that your museum can’t engage lots of different kinds of people – it’s just that many museums are going about it the wrong way. The relationship between your objects and your audience doesn’t have to be a direct line. You don’t necessarily need an exhibition about tractors to engage visitors from a rural community, or have stories from a particular era to attract those of a certain age. Instead, the aim should be to provide ‘enrichment’, and the best way to achieve this is through good museum interpretation.
By definition, enrichment is ‘The action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.’, and pretty much every museum has the potential to do this exceedingly well. The objects in your collection have been curated for their historical value and significance, and so there’s a good story in there somewhere. It just needs prising out and telling well.
Exhibitions should aim to elicit a positive reaction and an endearing, enduring memory, and you can do this by telling your stories, rather than simply listing the historical facts as most museums do. Our aim should be to have the audience go away thinking ‘That was really interesting! The story about that object was fascinating!”
A direct relationship with the visitor’s experience can be helpful, but it’s not entirely necessary. A well-told story about a local historical figure or archaeological artifact will be interesting and engaging, even to those with no direct interest in the local area. Pulling out the stories from the historical facts is the key to visitor enrichment.
Presenting your objects’ stories in an engaging, easy to access fashion is, by definition, enriching for the visitor – and so this should be our goal. And the good news is that enriching your visitors with a positive experience is also enriching for your museum. Increased engagement, footfall and revenue is a good marker for how successful your museum is.
In short, it’s all about enrichment.
And enrichment is all about the story.
That’s how we made the Westbury Manor Museum in Hampshire such a wonderful place to visit.