Museum: a place to be

Museums are known to be institutional places that conserves objects of any kind of historical, scientific or artistic value and which are exposed to be seen by an audience. This is the most popular definition of a museum that is usually seen as an exclusive site that, unfortunately, many people live as a boring and an unpleasant place.

Nowadays many museum try to overturn this idea designing the visit experiences in such ways that make the visitor learn not just in a passive way but also and especially in an active way. This is also possible thanks to all the technologies we have today that are taken into the museums.

We can see this kind of installments in most, if not all, the science museums around the world.

A good example could be the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie, the biggest science museum in Europe that is situated in Parc de la Villette in Paris, France. This huge structure hosts many temporary and permanent exhibitions regarding science, technology and innovation. The permanent exhibition that occupy three floors is a gigantic space where people get involved and can experiment in first person: it is not just a traditional museum.

screenshot-84For instance, one can discovers everything from light, sounds, universe, brain, energy through touch screens, interactive tables and simulators, like the one in the transport section that able the visitor to drive an echo vehicle.
The learning experience is made more entertaining thanks to games and animations as the one that makes you experience the laws of space physics. With these kinds of devices even learning Mathematic can be fun!

But interaction and participation it’s not all about technology.

In the Museum of Art and History of Santa Cruz County, California, we can find other ways to make visitors active, transforming the museum visit experience into participation. This museum is far from the idea of the traditional art and history museums that most of the people have in mind. MAH is a place that is made for and by the community of Santa Cruz. In fact, the philosophy behind MAH is based on the theory explained in the book  “The participatory museum”  written by the director of the museum, Nina Simon. Answering to the question on how cultural institutions can make a connection with the public and make themselves relevant in contemporary life she says

I believe they can do this by inviting people to actively engage as cultural participants, not passive consumers […] When people can actively participate with cultural institutions, those places become central to cultural and community life.

(Nina Simon, 2010)

This is how the Museum of art and History of Santa Cruz works. All the set-ups of the museum, permanent and temporary exhibitions, are installed so that the public is invited to give their personal contribution making the visit not just enjoyable but also meaningful. This is made possible by giving the public the right tools, designed specifically for the message that a certain exhibition wants to communicate to create an empathy between the visitor and the art collection.

Santa Cruz Collect was a past exhibition (year 2012) where MAH shows objects that came from people of Santa Cruz County. Most of the collections were displayed in the Solary Gallery on the second floor where, while crossing the gallery, one is made involved through a personality quiz (What kind of collector are you?) and a voting station in which visitors could vote which objects the museum should have keep or not.

Although, personally, I think that the most interesting part of this exhibition was the Memory Jars installation which was put in the first floor as an introduction. Visitors were invited to create their own memory jar and expose it onto the shelves. Each of these mason jars were filled with any kind of craft material that was given by the museum and used as you like, and then was labeled with a sentence that started with “I remember…”. In this way, people didn’t make a connection just with the collection and the exhibition but also with other visitors.7979805003_efce0475df_k

Nowadays many museums are trying to leave the idea of a traditional museum in many ways, with different strategies, so that people can consider them not just a place to see but a place to be.

Maria Krizia Ladra



  • Nina Simone, The Participatory Museum, 2010 ( read online )


Other links:

  • Opening up the Museum: Nina Simon @ TEDxSantaCruz (YouTube video)


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