By Raukura Hoerara-Smith, Assistant Curator Māori

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Raukura Hoerara-Smith wearing VR headgear at the Far From Frozen Exhibition at Space Place at Carter Observatory last year. Photo: Museums Wellington

It’s International Museum Day and this year the International Council of Museums
(ICOM) is encouraging museums to find new approaches and new audiences by exploring, strengthening and creating connections. The day aims to raise awareness that museums engage in cultural diversity and can bring about mutual understanding.

How can museums grab the public’s interest despite the one-click option that’s available online? How can museums integrate information technologies to suit the experience of the customer better? The challenge for most museums is to seek new ways to engage with the public and to promote curiosity.

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Photo: International Council of Museums

Exhibition design in museums today means not only looking at the purpose of the museum but also to integrate different resources and explore new engagements in the preservation, study and exhibition of artefacts, documents and stories of the modern world.

The vast development of new technologies can be applied in many ways. Through the use of the latest information technologies and accumulated knowledge, museums have become more accessible to visitors and the general public alike. With personal digital electronic devices, visitors can view images and text from websites and social media accounts. Interactive technology has dramatically enhanced some exhibitions and access to collections is more available as they become digitalised objects.

In the past, museums and heritage attractions were one of the leading providers of information and content. However this has changed with increased access to digital media. The sector needs to change focus on the experience of visiting, rather than just the content of the display. What counts now is the whole visit.

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Wellington Museum. Photo: Alex Efimoff

I think most visitors go to museums for the experience or for engagement. However, the objects on display make up a tiny slice of a museum’s collection and these are mostly inaccessible as they’re in storage. Museums must consider the visitor’s intention – whether it is for research or looking for an experience. The other side of it is creating and providing that information online where it is more widely accessible. These efforts can be such an overwhelming job, barely chipping away at the staggering amount of data and objects in collections – photographing them and transcribing object data etc.

As digitisation grows faster and cheaper, however, more institutions will start to invest more time in it and innovative ways of working are allowing institutions to think bigger – but it is a very time-consuming process. Although I believe it will improve the knowledge we have of the world around us. The difficult task will be to figure out the most appropriate way to implement these in our systems to save the museum time and money.

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Personally, I consider real objects in museums to be an essential way for communities to get together face-to-face to engage more and enhance communications. As an example, here at Museums Wellington, we have a dedicated exhibition hub, named Flux, which is aimed at encouraging a younger audience to take control of a space and display an exhibition or host an event. This will hopefully encourage a younger audience to return to explore our museum more fully at another time.

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Photo: Bradley Garner Creative

Museums are an inherent part of our local communities so they are also committed to following current trends. To enhance the public’s understanding of, and connection with, museums they have to develop new approaches in interpreting their exhibits and explore new opportunities through social media to enrich the audience’s viewing experience. These new approaches will enable audiences to communicate with the exhibits and with each other. However, not all these new connections are due to technology.

Museums Wellington strives to maintain its relevance in society but it also makes an effort to organise cooperative projects focusing on the local community and different social groups to engage with new audiences and to ultimately strengthen local communities.