A rare case: a permanent exhibition for children in an art museum
Jet van Overveem starts her talk by asking three questions: 1) Who works in an art museum that 2) has exhibitions that are especially devoted to kids or families which 3) are permanent? It turns out that just a few Hands-on! attendees are in that position.
The exhibition Wonderkamers
Miss Van Overeem is the artistic project manager of the permanent exhibition Wonderkamers; (Eng.: Wonder rooms), which is an interactive exhibitions built around a museum game for children, aged 9+. It is a mix of hands-on and authentic works of art, from fashion to architecture. The initial Wonderkamers was a success for 6 to 7 years. Hereafter it a second edition was developed. This redo included more technological advancement and more interactive display aspects. This resulted in a spatial museum game on a 1400 square meters exhibition area, in which the different artefacts, themes, tasks and rooms are more connected via an underlying story line. They spent 1,8 million euros on this project.
The set up of the museum game
Visitors receive a wonder guide (a tablet) and are introduced to the museum’s director. The director has a problem: in just a short amount of time a whole new exhibition needs to be developed and he asks the visitors to help him. Via the wonder guide, the fictional boss sends the visitor to various areas (wonder rooms) which are filled with themes that people can relate to: fragility, home, love etc. It is situated like a board game: 13 rooms around a central room. The visitors move from room to room and there’s a climax in the centre. In the thirteen rooms the director sets them tasks, with which they are introduced to various artefacts. The wonder guide keeps the score. The more points a visitor earns, the more objects he/she gets to chose in the end, to put in the final exhibition. The director prompts them to hurry up, when time is running out. In the end, based on their score, visitors get to decide which artefacts they would like to put in their exhibition. Players view each other’s exhibitions.
Why so successful?
The success of the project in total can be attributed to the good collaboration between the parties involved in developing the exhibition and the complete integration of the products of all parties. It’s been a process in which they had to overcome quite a lot of obstacles. Throughout the process everybody kind of took on each other’s role for a bit; educators, concept developers, visitors, lighting design, game design etc. This helped in creating understanding and synergy.
Throughout the development the team did a lot of testing with different types of visitors. They tested the game concept, the texts and the technology in various conditions. During this testing period they got a lot of questions of confused visitors. This lead to changing the introduction video and rewriting instruction texts. Furthermore, they found out that parents didn’t stick to the age advice; toddlers would also enter the exhibition. This made them decide to add smaller costumes in the fashion themed room. Because of all this testing, the opening was postponed twice, but they are very happy with their results.
It was a difficult process because all the elements (artefacts, QR-codes, lighting, texts, the game, etc.) were very interconnected. Small changes could have great effects down the line. Looking back miss Van Overeem would have preferred split the process up into separate parts: getting content together first and then focus on the physical development, followed by a test period.
Q: How did you manage to work with such a large amount of money?
A: We work with sponsors. Various companies have sponsored us. In relation to the amount of square metres of exhibition it’s a relatively cheap exhibition, however. We did not have a development department at first, but – also because of this process – we now have such a department.
Q: How do you manage the technology?
A: It was scary in the beginning, because we knew we were very dependent on it. In the beginning we had every day attendance of the technological developers. They would immediately solve problems that arose at the spot. This helped quite a lot. Later on we did regular checks and now it’s stable.
Q: Did you encounter problems with kids interacting with the technology?
A: We weren’t clear in our texts initially. We had to rewrite a lot of the text in the tablets. If people are in thouble, our Wonderkamers crew is at the ready; a special team helps visitors out when they do not understand.
Q: You have a lot of originals on display. How often do you change the collection? A: We rarely change the artefacts. Sometimes we change the textiles and sometimes a loan leaves, but not much of the collection has changed over the years.
Q: What is the most important reason that this project is so successful?
A: We were allowed to work with different backgrounds and it was accepted to be innovative. We never did a project before in which everything was so very connected. If you change something in here, something will change somewhere else. Now it feels as a great accomplishment, but we had our troubles; one always forgets the problems when you’ve delivered great results haha.
Q: Do children also visit the rest of the museum? It’s a museum in a museum. How is it affecting the rest of the museum. Do you have information whether young people are more interested in the other artefacts of the museum?
A: It depends. Children in school visits usually do not have enough time to visit the rest of the museum after their tour. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The Wonderkamer crew tells them they can see the real artefacts ‘upstairs’.