Chapter 6. Museum communication channels and visitor management

(Tamás Vásárhelyi)

Table of Contents

6.1. The venue
6.2. Before entering the museum
6.3. Arrival at the exhibition
6.4. Lights
Task 1
6.5. Colours
6.6. Furniture
6.7. Voices
6.6. Scents
6.9. Texts
6.10. Interactive approaches
6.12. Visitor comfort
6.13. People (museum staff, visitors, exhibition mannequins)
6.14. Objects
6.15. Access
Task 2:
Task 3:
Task 4:
Further reading

Museum communication occurs through a variety of channels. In this chapter, we introduce some of them. The venue influences the mood of the visit, gives first impressions and defines the framework of interpretation: leisurely or scholarly, experience-based or science-driven. The message of the exhibition is not transmitted through works of art or objects of scientific significance only. The lights and colours, voices and smells, the installation and other items of museum furniture, the texts and images presented on boards or offered for free browsing through digital information kiosks substantially contribute to our understanding of the display. Guides and guards are also among the most important contributors to visitor experience, as are services like restaurants or souvenir shops, access for handicapped visitors, senior citizens or families with small children. All these factors influence the duration and quality of our visit and our motivation to return. In this chapter, we describe these aspects and show their significance for museum communication.

Posters of museum communication conferences

6.1. picture: Communicating the Museum – posters of an annual international conference series. The buzzwords: “The museum and you”, media and marketing.

6.1. The venue

Museum visits are inspired by expectations of learning and (or?) experiencing. The venue where the exhibition is held influences our beliefs about what to expect, especially if we enter a new place about which we have only read or heard about. Even if the exhibitions are the same, the building and its environment raise different expectations. For example, you plan to visit our most important national museum, the biggest in our capital city, where we were first taken in primary school, and regularly revisit because of its unquestionable authenticity and 19th-century splendour. You are impressed even before entering the gate through the huge columns of its portico, but not excited – you know what to expect and are prepared for a solemn encounter with distinguished scholarship. If a colleague suggests visiting a university collection, and seeing an exhibition with the same title, your expectations are likely to be lower, or different. You pass through the corridors of the block-shaped building and, quite unexpectedly, enter a 19th-century collection kept in the same wooden installation as it was first shown two centuries before. Your surprise is mixed with respect for the historic roots of the institution and the excitement of finding a hidden treasure. Another example: if you have travelled far and made considerable expense to see a country, a visit to its national museum seems to be a “compulsory” part of the trip. Here, the environment is decisive. Experiencing a country in economic crisis and looking at its treasures from a glorious historic period of the nation probably makes you reconsider your ideas about the land you are visiting. The three exhibitions may be exactly the same, but your mood and motivation are different and so is the resulting experience.

two buildings: a concrete block and a high-roofed 18th century home of a wealthy citizen.

6.2. picture: Two museums side by side, with an entirely different style and atmosphere: Jüdisches Museum and Stadtmuseum, Munich, Germany. We enter them with entirely different expectations, past experiences and memories. (Photos: Tamás Vásárhelyi)