Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Recommended: “Please Be Seated” blog

(Originally posted at reganforrest.com)

The other day, as I was trawling the net for images of the good, bad and ugly of museum lobbies and signage (for an upcoming presentation), I found this excellent blog – Please Be Seated: visitor comfort in museums and other public places. It is hosted by Beth Katz and Steve Tokar, who set out to:

. . . promote and discuss the idea that comfortable museum visitors are happy visitors who are more likely to enjoy their visits and more likely to return. Thus, museums and other public spaces are better and more successful in all ways when they provide basic comforts including (but not limited to) good seating, readable signs and labels, lounges and other areas of visual and psychic relief, and navigable restrooms. Our intent is to analyze museums and other public spaces in terms of comfort, a word we use inclusively to mean visual, aural, intellectual, and emotional comfort as well as physical comfort for a wide range of humans of all ages and types.

The blog is well illustrated with a wide range of examples (it looks like they are all US examples, but the general idea is universal) and covers topics such as lobby layouts, orientation signage, disabled access and public spaces. As I touched upon recently, I believe attention to these details can make or break a museum visit.

The Please Be Seated blog is one for the bookmarks list of anyone interested in the visitor experience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cloverleaf floorplans are ideal

The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City has joined the ranks of my favourite museums. Of course, the collection is vast and the stories it has to tell are unique and powerful, but the Museum ranks in my Top Ten because the building supports the visitor experience in every way.

The Museum is built around a central courtyard which the galleries open onto. A fountain and a pond are the only features in the stone-paved courtyard.

Central courtyard of Museum of Anthropology

This simple layout allows a cloverleaf pattern of circulation wherein visitors keep returning to a central space.  The cloverleaf pattern is an ideal circulation path for museums because visitors can orient very easily and they have maximum flexibility to choose what they want to see. Each time they return to the centre, they can either go to the next gallery, or head off across the courtyard to explore any of the other galleries. Best of all, the cloverleaf path minimises the need to backtrack because the path returns to the central hub (hopefully services like cafe and toilets are near the hub).

In the cloverleaf circulation pattern, the central core is close to the main entrance/exit and pathways within galleries start from the core and return to it.

Cloverleaf circulation pattern

Of course, clover has three leaves, but museums can have as many leaves/galleries as they like. The floorplan given to visitors at the National Museum of Anthropology shows 12 galleries opening to the central courtyard.

Museum of Anthropology Floorplan

The floorplan also shows a second level of exhibition spaces that access the courtyard via staircases. Indeed, the floorplan looks quite complex. However, my experience was that the layout was very simple, just like the three leaf clover diagram. The Museum is huge and could easily occupy visitors for two or three days, but the layout was dazzlingly simple and easy to follow even for visitors with no Spanish.

Some Australian museums use the cloverleaf pattern for circulation. The Melbourne Museum was designed with a central spine with galleries opening to it on two levels. The Australian War Memorial has been extended (and extended!) around a central hub that gives access to the WWI galleries, WWII galleries, lower level and the Victoria Cross gallery. The Art Gallery of NSW has been extended (and extended!) down the hill using a central spine of open spaces and escalators.

After being immersed in WWI dioramas at AWM or the Western Art at AGNSW, the visitor returns to the familiar space of the central core. Here, they re-orientate and decide what to do next. Downstairs? Coffee?

I live in hope that one day I might see the National Museum of Australia rearranged so that the courtyard (so called Garden of Australian Dreams) becomes a central hub with a new main entrance and direct access to all the galleries from the hub.  The current layout sends visitors on a seemingly endless path that winds around and crosses various levels. It is confusing and disorienting for visitors and commits the cardinal sin of wayfinding by making visitors backtrack to get to the exit, toilets and cafe. Only those with great stamina and who want to see everything can avoid backtracking by making the full circuit to the First Australians gallery to return to the entrance/exit through the outdoor courtyard.

Mexico City's Museum of Anthropology opened in 1971. The excellence of the original design is evident in that 40 years later it still functions beautifully with  no need for renovation.

Posted by Gillian Savage

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sensitive treatment for human remains

Travelling in Mexico in July, I visited every museum and historic site I could manage. Given the Mexican cult of death in history and today, I came across a lot of human remains.

I was particularly impressed by a very sensitive display of a carved skull from pre-Aztec culture in the Oaxaca region. At Monte Alban, a hilltop city dating 500BC-750AD, I explored the ruins and looked through the small but exquisite site museum.

This is what I saw through a doorway opening off the main gallery – a large panel that screened a small display space.

Screen across gallery doorway
 My Spanish isn't good enough to know that 'Un Craneo y un Caracol' means 'A Skull and a Shell', though I could work it out afterwards. So I entered the room with no idea what it contained.

Passing by the screen, I saw that the room had only two objects in it, along with information panels on the walls. This intriguing object caught my eye.

Human skull carved

Walking around it, visitors can see the intricate carvings from all angles.

Human skull carved

The other object in the room was this large shell carved in a similar manner.

Carved shell
I already knew enough about prehispanic religion to know that water was venerated as life-giving and that sea motifs, like this shell, were associated with this religious practice.

I knew, too, that death featured strongly in religious life, and that human sacrifice through suffering and death were ritual practices. So it seemed fitting that these objects relating to life and death were displayed here together.

I thought that the sensitivity shown in protecting the skull from accidental viewing was very much in line with contemporary museum practice.

Of course, we saw very different norms in current religious practice. Many Catholic churches display and venerate human remains.  In the Cathedral in Mexico City, one of the side chapels is a reliquary and features this prominent display of San Vital, an early Christian martyr.  Apparently the bones were exhumed from a Roman catacomb in 1819.

San Vital Martir

It is fascinating to see that museums and other cultural organisations reflect living cultural practices, each in their own way.

Posted by Gillian

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Social Media and Museums

UK organisation Museum Next recently commissioned four surveys about social media and museums, exploring attitudes and expectations of both museum professionals and museum audiences:
  • Social Media Audiences and the museum (results of a survey of 500 UK residents) - referred to below as the "Audiences" survey.
  • What do people want from Museums on Facebook? (results of an online survey)
  • What do museums think Twitter is for? (responses from 361 museum professionals)
  • Museums on Twitter (results of an online survey from non museum professionals)
There are interesting similarities and differences between the results of the different surveys.
First, an overview of the Audiences survey:
This is one for the social media sceptics: more than three quarters of respondents said they used social media websites (how 'social media websites' was defined for the purpose of this research was not made clear, but more on that later*). And while usage declined with age, this drop in use was nowhere near as marked as some people might expect - just over half of the over 64s used social media (compared to 95% of the 18-24s).
However, the over 64s were far less likely to be a fan or follower of brands on social media - 21% compared to 83% of 16-24s (again, the percentages fell for each age bracket). Put another way, 16-24s are four times as likely as over 64s to interact with brands through social media. This potentially points to an interesting generational shift with respect to how people associate with brands and products (or alternatively says something about which brands have a social media presence, and the target markets of these brands).
In keeping with the "what's in it for me?" principle, the most common reason for following brands was to access promotions or special offers (54%). Other popular responses related to getting advance information about new products or events (37%), or that the brand supplied interesting content for its followers (33%).
Nearly three quarters of the sample said they attended museums and galleries, and this was roughly evenly spread across ALL the age groups. However, only 18% were aware of museums using social media, and only 10% were a fan or a follower of a museum (i.e. roughly half of those who were aware of museums on social media were fans or followers).
Interestingly, the reasons people gave for following museums were different from those given for 'brands', with the most common response being a wish to support or promote the museum (47%), followed by a desire to tell friends about an impressive visit (38%).
However, while 83% of respondents said they would be more likely to visit a museum which had been recommended by a friend (the question doesn't explicitly state 'recommend by social media', but this may have been inferred from the context), 66% thought that their friends would be 'indifferent' if they became a fan of a museum on Facebook.
Whereas the Audiences survey appears to be of a random sample of UK residents, it looks like the other survey samples were more opportunistic. Thus the age spread does not reflect different age groups' social media usage (as reported in the Audiences survey), and women outnumber men by nearly 2 to 1! (I'm not sure if this means women are more interested in museums, more inclined to social media, or that they are more likely to complete online surveys, but I digress . . .)
Of the sample, 82% of respondents 'like' at least one museum on Facebook and nearly 90% follow at least one Museum on Twitter, with most following several (i.e. This survey population is clearly different from the Audiences survey, where only 10% of respondents were fans or followers. By contrast, this sample is highly aware and engaged, and findings should be considered in light of this).
The reasons respondents gave for liking or following were similar across both Facebook and Twitter, with the top three being: to learn about exhibitions and events (76% Facebook, 98.9% Twitter); to show support for the museum (64% Facebook, 51% Twitter); and to help promote the museum (47% Facebook 35% Twitter). Based on these percentages, people overwhelmingly use Twitter to get information and news about museums, whereas Facebook has a greater promotion / supporting role. This does make intuitive sense given the way that each platform works, in that Twitter is more immediate and open while Facebook is more about sharing between people you already know. Although interestingly, 93% of people said they would be more likely to visit an exhibition that a friend recommended on Twitter compared to 83% on Facebook, which would seem counter that interpretation.

Roughly half of respondents had visited the museums they liked or followed; a further 35-40% had visited 'some of them', indicating that the physical audience and the online audience do not completely overlap. This might mean that a proportion of people are happy to have a purely online relationship with a museum, even if they do not visit in person. (I would imagine the nonvisiting fans and followers live some distance from the museum, but this could be an incorrect assumption on my part.)
If this is the case, and there is a small but significant proportion of fans and followers who are unlikely to visit in person, this might have interesting implications for museums' social media strategies - how can social media be used to add value for visitors and non-visitors alike?

*Just one final observation about the Audiences survey: although most of the questions refer to 'social media websites' generically, it's not clear how (or indeed if) this term was defined for respondents. I know from experience that there are often different understandings about what constitutes a 'social media website', so depending on what was said and how that was interpreted this may have affected the results.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Object labels and accessibility

Conducting focus groups among art gallery visitors last Saturday I had a strong sense of deja vue as several participants got hot under the collar about their frustration and anger about the dysfunctional object labels in a special exhibition.

The exhibition presented three-dimensional objects and used standard art gallery object labels. You know the kind – small print and low-set. To add insult to injury, the labels used a reflective material. 

In traditional galleries, like the Art Gallery of NSW in the next photo, visitors are more accepting of low-set object labels in small print. This picture shows that the labels are set well below eye-level and even average-height visitors will have to bend to read each and every one.

Traditional art gallery labels

This style of object label becomes problematic for free-standing glass cases when labels are put even lower down on the plinth. In many cases visitors have to kneel to read them. Not so easy for older visitors! No wonder many give up in frustration.

In special exhibitions, visitors have come to expect more. Art museum visitors are often well-travelled and many have seen best-practice interpretation in other places.

The National Museum is doing a good job of making object labels more accessible. In several permanent and temporary exhibitions they have adopted an approach that uses a sloping ledge to hold text, images, video screens, or interactive elements. 

Here's an example from the First Australians gallery. The ledge has the advantage of being very close to the visitor while leaving a clear view of the objects on display.

Interpretive ledge in First Australians gallery at NMA

The following picture shows a group of visitors at the display. It is clear that the visitors are looking at the art works and talking with each other. The great fear of art exhibition curators is that more prominent labels will 'take over' from the art works themselves. This example seems to demonstrate that more accessible information does not substitute for examining the works themselves. 

Visitors in First Australians gallery at NMA
While this 'interpretive ledge' solution won't apply to all situations, it should spark some creative thinking among curators who want to support excellent visitor experiences.

At the very least, object labels that can't be read by older visitors are an accessibility issue.

Posted by Gillian Savage

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: GoMA

While I was in Brisbane last week, I was surprised to learn that I was sharing a city with Australia's most visited museum in 2010: the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), twin museums which together drew crowds of some 1.8 million visitors last year.

Once I found that out, I had to drop by and see what all the fuss was about. GoMA in particular came highly recommended, with its 21st Century: Art in the First Decade Exhibition which dominated the museum's three (I think!) vast levels.

Rather than give a comprehensive review of such an exhibition (when others can do it far better than me), I thought I'd just take the chance to share some images and general observations.

View of the entrance lobby: the space immediately opens up across multiple storeys, feeling bright and open but also dramatic. The display on the right hand side is a wallpaper made up of NASDAQ figures, and is part of a piece making commentary about the Global Financial Crisis. Beyond are twin slides - and you ask yourself: could I really ride these?? This is an art gallery here!! (You can; but I didn't)

First off, the fact that I can share images at all is probably worthy of a comment in itself: art galleries in particular are often loath to allow photography (usually for copyright or conservation reasons). This might be understandable, but also confers a type of 'hands-off' reverence to the experience.

As a society, I think we're becoming more accustomed to documenting and sharing our experiences through photos via social media and other networks; this ability to share becomes often becomes an integral part of the experience itself. I wonder if this relatively permissive attitude to photography is a contributing factor to making the museum feel more open and welcoming, and consequently appealing to a different type of audience (I think I saw more teenagers in the space of one afternoon than I've seen in all my other previous art gallery visits put together - and no they didn't look like a school group).

Teenage girls at a display which allowed visitors to apply bindis to themselves

Another thing which was unusual in the context of an art gallery: queues. While queues to enter a whole exhibition are common enough, these were queues to see particular exhibits or take part in certain experiences which were only available to small groups of visitors at a time.

I'm usually a studious avoider of queues - probably a sign of an impatient temperament - but since I was on no fixed timetable and was feeling perfectly content to happily wander and lose myself amongst the displays, I did something I almost NEVER do: join a queue when I don't know what it's for:

Almost alone in the centre of a large gallery, the brilliantly lit spheres are surrounding a reflective black box that is almost lost in the darkened room; it makes a kind of infinity mirror for the spheres surrounding it. Notice the queue lining the far wall.

The queue was to enter the box in the middle of the room (4 at a time) which closed and surrounded you in a reflective UV space:

The view from inside the box: the floor is a small peninsula surrounded by a layer of water. The UV reflective (ping pong?) balls are suspended by fishing wire.

This was just one of several immersive exhibits, for instance the 'swimming pool' which was more than it first seemed:

School children at the bottom of the pool. . . .?

The view from the other side: the water is only an inch or two deep and the rest of the pool is accessed by an almost secretive rear entrance.

As well as the room filled with balloons:

The Balloon Room, or to give it its proper name: Work No. 965: Half the air in a given space (purple) by Martin Creed

This one in particular got me thinking about the blurred boundaries between interactive science and interactive art (in many cases, it's all in the interpretation). I happened to overhear a young girl say as she left the room: "you could really feel the static electricity in there", thus spontaneously articulating something which science-based balloon shows have long demonstrated (and may she's seen that before and made the connection?)

Overall, these exhibits created a sense of fun and delight which you seldom see in the hallowed ground of the art gallery, and in some ways reminded me of the spirit of the science centre. This creates its own challenges - art isn't made to be bulletproof the same way interactive exhibits are - as was demonstrated by this exhibt made from plastic bags, and which school children couldn't resist getting under:

The school children loved getting under this installation and pretend to be holding it up while one of their friends took a photograph

But this was one of the few exhibits I saw which was keeping the security guards busy as they tried to direct the enthusiasm of the school kids into non-destructive outlets.

Not all exhibits allowed photography, but I'll mention just one of these: From here to ear by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot. This installation contained a couple of dozen live finches in a room which incorporated a series of perch structures made from wood, coathangers, harpsichord strings and a sound system. It's a bit hard to describe but here's the label which was at the entry to the exhibit:

And that label leads me to my final observation: the technology side of things. The whole museum had free wi-fi access and several exhibits were accompanied by QR codes (like the example above) which allowed you to access podcasts and short movies about particular works. Before this exhibition, I'd never actually got around to experimenting with QR codes. But thanks to the available wi-fi, I managed to download a QR reading app and found it very easy to use. This options also gives you the opportunity to save materials on your phone for future reference.

The 21st Century: Art in the First Decade exhibition closes on April 26. While I wasn't sure which exhibits were part of that particular exhibition and which might be there on a more permanent basis, I'll definitely want to visit GoMA again for a second look next time I'm in Brisbane.

(This review was originally posted on Regan Forrest's blog on April 9: http://reganforrest.com/2011/04/gone-to-goma/)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crossing over into commercial exhibitions

An article in The Age on 5 April 2010, Big Bucks and the Boy King,  looks at the trend towards mega-blockbusters and raises some interesting questions.

The article is framed around the Tutankhamun exhibition that will open at the Melbourne Museum on Friday.

Image from a Tutankamon exhibition in Spain

The article points to recent exhibitions such as Salvidor Dali, Titanic, Masterpieces from Musee D'orsey, and Pompeii to reflect on a trend towards mega-blockbusters.

Naturally, the article raises the quantity versus quality topic, with questions about the quality of the viewing experience in exhibitions that are very busy. I think that this is not a major issue when  museums/galleries are careful to limit the number of people in the exhibition at any time. The similar inconvenience of long queues can be addressed by time-based ticketing.

Part of the article supports the 'small is good' cause by profiling some small-scale experiences in both galleries and performing arts. Of course, this doesn't deny that big can be fabulous too.

Another concern is that several of these mega-exhibitions have been toured by commercial enterprises without roots in the museum industry. Some appear to have a life of their own as touring museums. The artefacts in Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition, have never been in a museum and the exhibition is likely to tour for years. The road it its home and the host museum is just a venue. Naturally, this rubs a bit on local professionals who look for opportunities to shape and research their own exhibitions.

I was particularly interested to see the article refer to a seminar presented last November at Deakin University titled ''More than people through the door: Engaging audiences'' where Professor Jennifer Radbourne, dean of the faculty of arts and education, noted in her introduction that ''the artistic directors and general managers we have spoken to know a lot about their audience demographics - the gender, age, postcode, other subscriber habits of the people who attend their shows - but strangely little about what they are getting out of the experience.''

I was pleased to think of the various research projects I have been involved in where we have spent time understanding what people are getting out of the experience of visiting an exhibition. Still, it is true that keeping the full richness of the visitor experience at the centre of exhibition planning is quite a challenge.

It would be good to hear from those of you at Melbourne Museum on the topics raised in The Age. I'm sure you have some interesting perspectives!

Posted by Gillian Savage

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dallas Art Museum Framework for Engaging with Art (FEA)

The Dallas Museum of Art’s Framework for Engaging with Art (FEA) is based on a study of audiences that explored the preferences and behaviours of museum visitors. The study and its findings led to fundamental changes in all aspects of the DMA’s practices and programs. This has led to a dramatic growth in audience numbers with the result that the Museum is more deeply embedded in the culture of the city.

In Ignite the Power of Art, Bonnie Pitman and Ellen Hirzy describe the audience research, the framework and the ways the Dallas Museum of Art has responded by implementing new practices, facilities, events and services.

At the centre of the FEA is a segmentation that divides audiences into four fairly even categories. These four segments can be arranged on two dimensions, Sociability and Engagement, as shown in this diagram.

  • Observers (26% of DMA audience) are somewhat tentative about art and the Museum. They prefer straightforward explanations and insights.
  • Participants (24% of DMA audience) are curious about art and comfortable in the Museum. They enjoy the learning and social aspects of their experiences in museums.
  • Independents (20% of DMA audiences) prefer viewing art on their own and developing their own interpretations. They have a strong background in art studies and are confident of their knowledge. 
  • Enthusiasts (30% of DMA audiences) are most emotionally connected to art, enjoy discussing it and have the strongest background in art studies.
This is a really good example of how a very simple segmentation can be a powerful guide for strategic planning. As Bonnie Pitman says,

With the Framework for Engaging with Art as a tool for continued learning, we are blending a renewed understanding of visitors' distinctive qualities into the culture and values of the Museum. 

It is little wonder that audience numbers rise when museums adopt a visitor-centred approach. The Dallas Museum of Art provides a very effective example where this has been applied successfully.

Posted by Gillian Savage (thank you to Gillian Ridsdale for pointing me to this project).

Monday, March 7, 2011

In Mexico City, museums are THE thing to do

On Saturday I came across general-purpose feature article about Mexico City in the Sydney Morning Herald Travel section.  I read it with pleasure as John Huxley walked us along streets and in and out of various places.

Museo Mural Diego Rivera

I kept reading to the end because I'll be visiting Mexico City in July!

It was only after I finished the article that I realised the only places he discussed were museums and heritage sites. Maybe that is all there is to Mexico City or maybe Huxley is a museum geek. Or maybe museums are THE thing to do to make sense of Mexico.

The only other aspect of life in Mexico that Huxley raised was the pervading violence in Mexican history and in current society.

Maybe museums really are safe places.  Or maybe not, as Huxley notes–

For visitors to Mexico, there is no shortage of violence to be found in its museums, in the pages of its tumultuous history, in the ruins of its ancient monuments. At the Museo del Templo Mayor, in the centre of Mexico City, for example, there are blood-curdling accounts of the human sacrifices made by the Aztecs.... for four days in 1487, priests honoured their gods by ripping the beating hearts from some 30,000 captured warriors lined up four abreast for three miles.

Troksy's house museum (where he got the ice pick in the head), Frida Kahlo's house (her physical suffering), Inquisition museum (torture instruments)... and so on. I begin to see what I am in for.

Museums and heritage sites are the best places to understand Mexico's culture, including the culture of violence.

Huxley's focus on museums is another piece of evidence that museums are vital to meaning-making, culture, life and travel.

Posted by Gillian Savage

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lois Silverman

I have just ordered Lois Silverman's The Social Work of Museums which was published last year.

The EVRSIG invited Lois to visit Australia as a plenary speaker at a MA conference in the 1990s. Her focus has been on the ways that museums/galleries  contribute to physical and mental health in society.

In The Social Work of Museums, she focuses on the social role of museums and how their work relates to individuals, couples and groups. She argues that social work is the most important role of museums today. The book provides a framework that will help museums extend this aspect of their role. 

In our study of families and museums, published as Knowledge Quest, we noted the high proportion of single parents among the families we studied. And we also noted the presence of 'stressed' families (struggling with loss, addiction, unemployment) who visited museums for the experience of a safe and stimulating family outing.   So we have some understanding of ways that museums contribute to the health of the community.

I'm looking forward to learning more. 

Posted by Gillian Savage

Monday, February 7, 2011

Goods give way to experiences

Museums around the world seem to becoming more fashionable and popular. Large new museums are opening in major cities that haven't had a strong museum culture previously and big-brand museums are sprouting offshoots here and there.

I have a theory that developed countries are becoming satiated with stuff. There is an emerging trend towards reducing stuff by buying less, re-using, recycling and making do with what you've got. A recent New York Times article,  In Recession, Americans Doing More, Buying Less, describes this trend. They report recent time-use surveys that show that between 2005 and 2008 Americans spent less time buying goods and services and more time cooking or taking part in “organizational, civic and religious activities.”

They also note the  increase in museum audiences since 2008 as part of this trend. It seems that many people are turning away from buying material goods and seeking experiences instead. In 2009, US movie audiences were up by 5% and Disney theme parks enjoyed a 3% increase in visitors the the last quarter.

This is good news for museums. Especially museums that continue to offer strong experiences of authenticity to visitors.

ANMM - below deck on a hot summers day

There are a multitude of initiatives like The Story of Stuff that support moves away from lifestyles centred on consuming goods.  Perhaps a tide has turned in developed countries as 'having' gives way to  'being' and 'doing'. This may be one of the factors behind the new popularity of museums across the developed world.

As custodians of 'the real thing', museums can lend their weight to this trend and further encourage people to engage in activities more meaningful than shopping.

Posted by Gillian Savage

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Art gallery audiences in NSW

The Museums and Galleries NSW report, "Guess Who's Going to the Gallery: The NSW Report" is based on  7,000 responses from 41 galleries across NSW collected between 2007 & 2010.

The M&GNSW website notes that:

The research reveals that if you have 10 people standing in front of an artwork in a public gallery, it is likely that:
  • At least one will speak a language other than English at home;
  • At least two will be tourists;
  • Two will be under 35 and at least three aged between 35-54;
  • Four will be from a household earning less than $40,000 and only two of them will be from a household earning more than $80,000;
  • At least five will live within the gallery’s local government area;
  • At least five will work (full or part time) and two will be retired;
  • Two will have finished secondary level schooling, and
  • Two will have a post graduate degree;
  • Five will have been to that gallery more than four times in the past two years, but for three of them, it will be their first visit;
  • Two will have come with their partner, three by themselves, with the others coming with family and/or friends;
  • Almost all of them will have rated their visit as “Good” or “Terrific”. 

    This audience description will appeal to local councils who provide most of the funding for the regional galleries that make up the bulk of this sample. They will be very happy to know that their galleries are attracting lower income people, tourists and repeat visitors. And that visitors are enjoying the experience.

    You can access the report at the M&GNSW website.

    Posted by Gillian Savage

    January Bulletin

    The January Bulletin with news from our sector has been circulated to members, many thanks to Regan Forrest and Linda Ferguson, and to the contributors.

    To get a copy, you can click on the tab  'News Bulletins' tab above to access an online copy.

    Among other interesting articles, Jan Packer gives an overview of the annual Visitor Studies Association Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in July 2010. It's good to keep in touch with activities in other parts of the world because nothing stands still.

    Rachael Coghlan notes that:
    It looks set to be a good year for the EVR SIG as we talk about how the EVR SIG can reinvigorate itself on a professional level and how we can provide more meaningful benefits for members and ways to connect with museum colleagues around Australia. Make sure you are part of these conversations – in person and online!

    Rachael Coghlan

    So, feel free to 'hang out' and exchange news and views.

    Posted by Gillian Savage

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Yiwarra Kuju – Canning Stock Route

    This splendid exhibition at the National Museum of Australia till 26 January 2011 is so much more than the sum of its parts. It tells the story of the Aboriginal people who were affected by the Canning Stock route in Western Australia.

    The glorious paintings, commissioned for the project, are the jewels around which the exhibition is organised. Each perfectly lit painting glows against the dark walls.  

    Some paintings tell Dreamtime (Jukurrpa) stories, like the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) shown below, while others tell episodes of life history, like the 1957 story of how ten-year old Tjungurrayi was taken to hospital by helicopter by a mining survey party.    

    Minyipuru (2007)

    The Canning Stock route is a familiar name to most Australians, but most of us are vague about its location, so the maps in the exhibition were very helpful in establishing just where these things happened.

    For me, the experience of the paintings as art works was helped immensely by the supporting material about the purpose of the paintings and the context in which they were produced.  In general, museums seem to do a much better job than art galleries at presenting fuller contexts for works of art. The visual aesthetic is just one aspect of these works which sprang from a desire to pass on cultural practices and memories.

    This project is clearly a part of the process of continuing and creating culture. I am glad to see that the exhibition is supported by a comprehensive website that provides extensive links to essays, people, stories, and, of course, the glorious paintings.

    This is an exhibition that deserves to travel.  Does anyone know whether it is scheduled to visit other centres?

    Posted by Gillian Savage