Monday, October 25, 2010

Valentino Exhibition at QAG/GOMA

I visited the Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future at the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art and I was impressed by how well it worked for visitors.

Key image for the exhibition

The exhibition was shown in two large exhibition halls with a connecting space that hosted shop, cafe and video lounge area. The two exhibtion halls used a simple display of dresses on generic models, grouped on wide plinths around the room and on a large central plinth in the large gallery space.

Spacious layout of models on plinths

This layout had many benefits for visitors:

  • Plenty of room to move around, zig-zag, look back and forth, and compare.
  • This amount of space is really helpful for blockbuster exhibitions.
  • Many of the dresses could be seen from several angles.
  • It gave opportunites to look ahead and make sense of the organisation of the exhibition.
  • With no glass cases, there was a sense of immediacy and closeness that made it easy to inspect the fine workmanship.
  • It supported opportunities for visitors to play 'games' – before leaving the gallery we did a quick review and picked out the dress we would like to take home and our favourites for sisters and friends.
Another benefit of this minimal display was that there were no exhibition design features to compete with the dresses and this made them the rightful stars of the exhibition.This is a key marketing technique: make the product the hero. In a way, the non-design of the setting provided a strong contrast with the elaborate designs and workmanship of the dresses.

The layout had other benefits too, namely it is not expensive and it allows the exhibition to be re-configured for the various galleries that will host it.

 From the visitor perspective, the layout of this exhibition worked a treat.

Photo: ABC News

Contributed by Gillian Savage

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Exhibition Evaluation

An exhibition may have some goals that do not relate to visitors – perhaps the exhibition will help develop staff expertise or extend the collection – but all exhibitions will have some goals that relate to visitors. Exhibitions are more effective when visitor-related goals are articulated clearly during the development phase. For one thing, these goals can help keep the exhibition focused and on track, avoiding those tendencies towards mision-drift that can occur all too readily.

If an exhibition aims to deliver learning outcomes to young children, a clear goal will keep this in view.

Hot and sweaty learning at AWM's 'A is for Animals'

Visitor research is the tool you use to determine how effectively you met your goals with respect to visitors. Evaluation can assess how well the exhibition achieved its intended outcomes and also record unintended outcomes, both positive and negative. This valuable information can feed into future practice.

The Informal Science website is a treasure trove of Visitor Evaluation studies carried out in US museums, Science Centres, Historic Sites, etc.

A 2010 study by Randi Korn, Summative Evaluation: Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection Exhibition for the New York State Historical Association makes the following findings.

  • The Thaw exhibition was a tremendously successful exhibition; visitors left the exhibition with the messages that NYSHA intended. 
  • First, visitors articulated deep appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship of American Indian art—one of the goals of the exhibition. This emerged immediately in the interview process, indicating that the idea was most top-of-mind as well as inspiring.
  • Second, the exhibition strove to convey the message that American Indian arts of the various regions are different from one another. Not only did more than one-half of interviewees articulate this message during the interview, some demonstrated a concrete understanding of how the arts were different, including that American Indians used the materials available to in order to create the things they needed.
Exhibition evaluation doesn't have to be large-scale. Regular, small-scale evaluations are very effective in building knowledge about visitors and exhibition practice – knowledge that is vital for staff professional development.

Contributed by Gillian Savage

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Aunts and Uncles Impress Young Minds

Reach Advisors manage a large scale self-completion visitor survey conducted at a couple of hundred museums, mostly in the US. The sample is drawn from museum email lists and social media so the survey results are not representative of museum visitors in general, but the study does throw up some interesting findings.

In a recent blog post, Reach Advisors look at the impact of childhood museum visits with aunts/uncles.

Aunt and child at Childrens Museum

They dug around in their data to compare the behaviour of people who visited museums in their childhood with aunts/uncles.

They found:
As adults today, they enjoy a wider variety of museums, and are significantly more likely to enjoy history museums, historic sites, art museums, natural history museums, and botanical gardens and arboretums.  When they visit museums, they also enjoy a wider variety of interpretation methods, including guided tours, talking with staff, programs and events, and object-based experiences. 

It appears that childhood visits with aunts/uncles were likely to be special occasions when children had the undivided attention of the aunt/uncle. And they often received a memento from the giftshop.

No wonder these childhood visits were remembered years later!

Contributed by Gillian Savage

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, RSMiller.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Audiences with special needs

In a blog post today, Alison Russell describes some of the ways the Imperial War Museum in England caters for the needs of sight-impaired visitors.

Imperial War Museum (Jim Bahn on Flickr)

It is not surprising to see her report that the Museum finds that interpretation aimed at special needs visitors is very popular with general visitors. We often see adults having fun in child-oriented areas.

I particularly like her description of audio tours developed for the sight-impaired:
The language and descriptions were beautifully evocative, describing size, colour, shape, detail and history of some of the aircraft on display.

No wonder these interpretive devices have broad appeal!

I recall our 'Knowledge Quest' project where we studied family visitors to museums. One of the visiting groups comprised a mother who was blind and her two primary-aged children. We saw the two boys helping her to engage with the Chinese Dinosaurs exhibition at the Australian Museum. For example, they stood her at the head of one of the skeletons and they all counted the number of steps it took to walk to the tail, and they read text panels to her. In our follow-up interview in their home a couple of weeks later, we noted that these children had more specific memories of their museum visit than most other children we interviewed. 

I often think that parents who accompany children to museums have a strong experience partly because they act as interpreters for their children. Just as the car driver remembers the route better than the passengers, the active party is more engaged than those who just follow along.

This could be the kernel of an idea for new programs that put the audience in the driving seat.

Contributed by Gillian Savage

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Committee

We have an enthusiastic new committee this year working under the continuing presence of Rachael Coghlan as President.

With specific roles for each of us, we can be more effective in covering a range of responsibilities.

President Rachael Coghlan
Vice President  Lynda Kelly
Treasurer Tiina Roppola
Secretary Georgia Conduit
Member – web presence Gillian Savage
Member – visitor studies update Gillian Ridsdale
Member – Museums Australia liaison Carolyn Meehan
Member – member events Marketa Dressler

You can contact any of us with your suggestions or queries.

Contributed by Gillian Savage

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

About our members

Currently, we have nearly 100 members across Australia and New Zealand. The following graph shows where our members are located.

EVRSIG has members in all States
Most members are in NSW and Victoria, however the ACT, Queensland and WA also have local groups.  Every state has at least one member, and we have two in New Zealand.

Because we are so spread out, the Internet is our main form of communication. Committee members meet by teleconference several times a year.

We have some thoughts about activities in the coming year. We'd love to hear your ideas about events in your local area that you'd like to support. This could be a workshop or seminar for yourself and colleagues/volunteers. Or a social event.

Add a comment here, or send an email to another member. Spread the word.

Coming next -- details of Committee members for the coming year.

Contributed by Gillian Savage

Friday, October 1, 2010

Online ticketing

At the Museums Australia 2010 conference, Elizabeth Cole described online ticketing at the Melbourne Museum for exhibitions like Pompeii and Titanic. People can buy tickets for specific blocks of time online and avoid onsite queues.

A survey showed that 40% of online purchasers looked to buy tickets online simply because that is how they buy tickets these days. They expected this is how things are done now.

Elizabeth spoke about how the Melbourne Museum grappled with the problem of multiple ticket vendors -- the tickets are sold online by major ticket vendors and the Museum, and also by phone and on site.

If people miss their timeslot, the Customer Service staff use their discretion whether to let them in straight away or ask them to wait.

Large screens in foyer areas show how full the timeslots are, so when visitors get to the counter they know what sessions are available.

Online tickets are scanned to prevent fraudulent copying. 

"The voracious appetite for buying tickets online drives our implementation of online solutions," said Elizabeth.


I note that earlier this year the NGA in Canberra had massive queues to their blockbuster because they had not solved the problem of time-based ticketing. Now that they have launched a new look along with their new building extensions, they have implemented online ticketing.

Contributed by Gillian Savage