“Do children and their parents do what we expect in our exhibitions? Not quite.”
How do visitors, including children, experience the ‘Home’ exhibition?
The exhibition ‘Home’
Marianne Bargeman and her colleagues researched how the visitors of the National Gallery of Denmark experienced their exhibition, which focused on the theme ‘Home’. The home exhibition is meant for families with children and displays both artwork and exhibits developed especially for this exhibition. From paintings exerting the feeling of home to a huge carpet, made out of used kitchen rags, t-shirts and other home-related fabrics and from sensory boxes to audio fragments of various Danish families preparing for dinner. Furthermore, rules of house holds are questioned. Why are you allowed to fart in the bathroom, but ot at the dinner table? The exhibition aims to engender reflection on what makes a home a home, not only physically, but also mentally, socially and globally.
Studying visitors’s experiences
The small scale study focused on families and children as individuals. Various methods were used; observations of visitor behaviour, sociometric records of their movements, were they stopped and paused; providing families with clip on microphones in order to analyse conversations and interviews to name few. Moreover, the researchers invited kids (both familiar and unfamiliar with museum visits) to assess various parts of the exhibition.
One of the findings was that the visitors during the week were more different from the weekend visitors than initially expected. Compared to the week visitors (mostly from school visits) the weekend children visiting the exhibition were a lot younger than anticipated and a lot younger (1-5 years old) than the exhibition target group (6-12 years old). Moreover, a lot of visitors (about 50%) travelled through the exhibition from ‘exit to entrance’. The children did not engage as much with the artwork as initially anticipated. On a more in depth level they witnessed more engaged children’s comments of parents who took more time to visit and explore the exhibition. The various approaches of adult facilitators made quite a difference between and how children engaged with the exhibition.
Marianne and her colleagues intend to put more focus on stimulating parents to let go, relax and take their time when visiting exhibition with children, encourage them to ask questions and let their children choose the works they would like to interact with. Moreover, the difference in audiences made them wonder whether they should cater for these different groups via different kind of exhibitions. They now have a better understanding that it is sometimes hard for the visitors to understand the outlining of an exhibition (when it continues on another floor for example) and that the art simply does not always attract the wanted attention; jokingly: “Sometimes we even wondered whether it would have made any difference if we had put in IKEA furniture”.
Q: Why were the artworks separated from most of the hands on exhibits?
A: Only the second floor’s climate is suitable for the art. There’s a different climate downstairs and therefore little to no art on display.
Q: In the instances that the children engaged in the art more – do you have any idea what caused that?
A: It was mostly when the grown ups took some time to explore, were more relaxed and more involved in conversation. We intent to get parents to relax more during their visits and to really take their time for the experience.
Q: Do you not have facilitators in weekends?
A: No, sadly not, because of budget issues. We have guided tours and a lot of text, but facilitators would be the way forward in our opinion.