“What makes a museum visitor experience high-quality and personally engaging is that it fully satisfies the visitor’s entering identity-related museum motivations. As museum researcher Zahava Doering wrote: ‘Rather than communicating new information, the primary impact of visiting a museum exhibition is to confirm, reinforce, and extend the visitor’s existing beliefs.” (Falk 153)
“When I looked into the research on relevance, I discovered that experts define relevance as more than a link. In the words of cognitive scientists Deidre Wilson and Dan Sperber, relevance ‘yields positive cognitive effect.’ Something is relevant if it gives you new information, if it adds meaning to your life, if it makes a difference to you. It’s not enough for something to be familiar or connected to something you already know. Relevance leads you somewhere. It brings new value to the table.” (Simon 29)
In reading Falk and Simon, I was struck by these two quotes and what they imply about visitor experience as well as the role of research experts in understanding these experiences. Falk and Doering seem to be suggesting the relative stability of visitors’ relationships to exhibits (confirm, reinforce), although the idea of “extend[ing]” existing beliefs implies some change. Simon, on the other hand, is more explicit about the idea of newness—relevance means adding something, making a difference.
I’m interested in museum research’s relationship to stability and change—how we can study the effect of a museum visit without implying that it needs to alter a visitor’s self-perception? Research is often thought of as a time consuming process and one that needs to hold certain variables constant, but if relevance implies newness and difference, then what might relevant research look like?
Like Rica, I am both excited and skeptical of Vangone’s approach to the historic house museum. Vagnone, like Simon, shows investment in community, creativity and culture for the field. But, as Rica discusses, none of this seems particularly anarchist/revolutionary? Sure, Vagnone may be the first to compile it into a text, but much of this language has been part of what I consider public humanities literature and discussion of at least the last 5-10 years. I feel bombarded with “museum visionaries” like Simon and Vagnone to the point that this is my norm and my expectation for museums. The person that needs to be convinced is no longer me – in fact, it probably never was me, because this is the standard for thought leadership in the field at the moment. I’m interacting with the “right” people – the people interested in change and ~revitalization~ – and so I’d be more curious to hear from classmates who’ve been on the inside about just how difficult these kind of changes are once inside the museum. Is Vagnone directing his work at the wrong person? Or am I just too optimistic about how change works?
I’d also like to point out that Vagnone takes a page from Mark Schlemmer’s playbook with #ITweetMuseums. But one should note that #ITweetMuseums started as a way for cultural workers to tweet about museums – an independent initiative, separate from the organizations themselves, and also not directly for these new audiences that Vagnone talks about for HHMs. Why is that? Well, these suggestions requires a lot of investment on the part of the community to be interested in your museum! Citizen Advisory Groups, young volunteers, N.U.D.E. tour guides, new paradigms of thinking – these are great partnerships for the museums, but I’m not sure if visitors/communities understand the benefits they would be getting from this conversation. And they’re the ones who, at the end of the day, need to be convinced as well!
I’m also interested in how Falk can play into conversations with Vagnone and Simon. Both seem more focused on getting people in the door with dynamic presentation, but not necessarily getting into the intricacies of those visitors’ needs and desires once inside. Which shifts into my next point…
Continue reading tl;dr: Vagnone is right, but is this visionary?