On Museum Accessibility and Relevance

This week’s reading focus on museum accessibility and its connections with community/people. Simon argues that the key to connecting the needs, assets and interests of the community with the collections in museum is to unlock deep meaning and value for a diverse audience in a community. Vagnone takes HHMs as an example to show the importance and ways of finding common ground to serve the needs of individuals and expand community engagement. Falk examines how to enrich visit experiences and build connection between visitors and museums by targeting different types and needs of visitors.

My own experience visiting museums in D.C. during the Spring Break resonate with this week’s reading. Regarding museum accessibility, of all the museums I visited in D.C. last week, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is the most difficult and frustrating to get in: getting up early three times at 6:30am to register a same-day timed entry pass for individual visitors but found all the tickets sold out within 5 minutes. Fortunately enough I was able to visit the museum with a walk-up pass after a long waiting time. This experience of frustration (more than once) was shared by fellow visitors waiting with me that day, including local people, out of state visitors and international ones. Of course there are strong reasons for the museum’s popularity, and I interpret this difficulty in accessibility from two aspects: on the one hand, it might frustrate certain types of visitors as what Falk categorized as experience seekers, facilitators and rechargers, especially when these people are temporary visitors/tourists to D.C. On the other hand, it might create a scenario of high demand and short supply which helps promote the museum’s popularity and visitors’ desire to experience its exhibitions and programs.

That being said, I have to admit that NMAAHC is the most impressive museum in my trip. Echoing what Falk said about the most satisfying experience, my visit at this museum resonates with my fragmented existing knowledge of African Americans, providing me an overview of African American history, culture, community and activism. My over 30-minute wait to visit Emmett Till Memorial room and see his original casket connected me to our classroom discussion on this issue and greatly enriched my understanding of the impact of his tragic death on the course of civil rights movements and the nation, and its ongoing legacy to our current every-day resistance to racial injustice. I want to add that interactions among visitors can help build one’s connection or relevance to the exhibitions as well. My conversations with a few visitors at the museum, and my observation of fellow visitors, most of whom are African Americans, in the long waiting line to visit the Emmett Till Memorial room, and their expressions after the visit, greatly helps me understand the impact of Till’s case and resonate with the feelings and situation of African Americans.

This week’s reading and my visiting experience make me ponder over conflicts between the tradition of museum and its present day marketing: Shall we treat visitors as consumers and the marketing strategy is to motivate people to attend? Shall we adopt new technology like 3D films in the Museum of National History and 4D films in Newseum to attract visitors and enrich their experiences? If so, what is the difference between a museum program like this and the similar practice in Disneyland? I wonder how museums and cultural institutions maintain their own agency while adopting a market strategy to promote visitation, funding and community involvement.

One thought on “On Museum Accessibility and Relevance”

  1. Ah, your last paragraph brings us back to the question we had early on of how do we treat our visitors! I wonder how historically museums have engaged with market strategy – is this a “last 50 years” problem or a “last 10 years” problem?

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