I’m going to be taking a short break from blogging so I can recover from a very long and tough March.
I’ve decided to post fairy houses when I can’t post, because they are awesome.
Have you ever missed an opportunity because you were afraid of something? I have.
I’m naturally shy (and I work in visitor’s services, weird, right?), which sometimes holds me back from interacting in museums. I see touch carts and people with objects (or living history museums in general) my tongue freezes in my mouth and I get really shaky. Here’s the strange part: I love touch carts and living history. I learn best from those types of interactions, and I credit them with my interest in the museum field today.
I conquered my fear of public interaction by interning at the National Museum of American History in Visitor’s Services/Public Programs. I stood behind the cart, so now whenever I walk up to the cart, I try to interact as much as possible, even if I’m afraid.
I recently asked a few people and brainstormed about museum related fears. I placed them in three categories (although even those are very loose): accessibility, content, and other.
1. Will I be able to see most of the museum in a wheelchair?
2. Are there subtitles on the videos?
3. Are there audio tours?
4. Will I be able to afford it?
5. Will my (autistic or sensory sensitive) child disturb the other visitors if he or she gets overstimulated/hyper/angry/upset?
1. Will it be a wax museum?
2. Will it have mummies?
3. Will it have taxidermy?
4. Will I be able to pull myself away?
5. Will I be able to see all of it in a day?
6. Will it be scary for my child?
1. Will someone not take me seriously/make fun of me because I’m unfamiliar with art/history/science? (This one makes me angry, because I know that it happens and it shouldn’t)
2. Will there be a lot of kids?
3. Is the content for kids?
4. Will it be worth the cost?
5. Will I be the only person of my own demographic (age, race, body type, ability)?
As you move throughout your museum today, think about these questions. I don’t have many answers to these, but couldn’t many of these fears be addressed in a FAQ portion of a website or brochure? Shouldn’t we already have the answers to these questions? Shouldn’t Docents/floor staff be (and most of the ones I have met are) trained how to handle/answer many of these questions?
This week, we opened a new exhibit. The marketing and activities are geared towards kids. Guess what exhibit is scary for kids under ten? Museums can be scary places, but they don’t need to be. These fears still persist. How do you address them in your museum? Did you have your own fears entering the museum field? How did you resolve them?
1. Visitors Helping Visitors
Today I saw two great moments where visitors encouraged other visitors. The first was a family where the kids wanted to play with a game in the exhibit, but the parents wanted to move on. The parents told the kids to keep playing, as they were both old enough and the adults were four feet away in an open room.
2. Follow the Pirate Flag!
Sometimes we have to adapt or create activities for visitors on the spot. The other day we had a small group of preschoolers in an exhibit that is kinda scary (we did not expect this reaction from kids until it opened), so I decided to lead them through one of the scariest parts. We marched through while I waved a “pirate flag”, a pink, zebra-striped bandana. It worked!
3. A Change of Scenery
We have a new ticket desk! We used to have a temporary movie theater-like booth. It is amazing to see how visitor interactions have changed now that we have a booth (they still think our exhibits are movies, though).
4. The Best Questions
This week I’ve gotten the best questions from visitors. Last Friday, when we opened the pirate exhibit, I had two young visitors (under 10) ask me about cannon. One had been reading the exhibit text and wanted to know where the letter A was on the trunnions, and then asked what a trunnion was. I didn’t know, but was able to tell him later. My second young visitor asked me how cannon are fired. It was AWESOME. I don’t get to hear questions from kids that often (one dad even discouraged his daughter from asking me a question the other day because I “don’t know anything”.) so I love every kid interaction I get. And if you engage the kids, the adults then follow. We also had an event where tour guides from an area company visited the museum. It was fabulous. I got so many great questions!
5. Bringing History to Life Through Craft
I found the American Duchess blog in my freshman or junior year of college through the first project, an 18th century inspired owl costume. I’ve followed the blog sporadically since then, but I love how it brings history to life through scholarship and craft. I know I’m not the only one that loves the new trend focused on vintage and “what’s old is new” and with a little steampunk thrown in there, too. I love this trend because I see the potential for history education inside of it. Plus American Duchess sells really awesome historic reproduction shoes. And I normally don’t care about shoes at all, so this is high praise coming from me. Granted, I haven’t bought any, because I don’t do costume work, but if I did, I know where I’d go.
What have you been finding in museums?