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So, I’m almost done reading the Falk & Dierking paper about creating museum experiences and I felt compelled to write this blog post about my feelings towards it. Before I even stop, let me first pay my respects to these museum curators and apologize, once again, for my narrow-minded view on museums and the arts. I know in a past blog post, I admitted my wrong for believing the arts were a useless field but now I must say that I now realize that I didn’t really pay much attention to the care and love that museum curators put into making museums an experiences, especially since they are dealing with a very broad audience that they want to cater to. Just reading this paper gave me a headache. I didn’t realize that museum curators had to take everything like these elements into consideration in order to give the best possible experience to their customers. Even if they aren’t following these elements down to the letter, I can understand how frustrating it can be for you to have a vision in mind for an artifact; but your visitors disclaim it and form their own vision. So, kudos to the curators!!

But getting to the actual passage of the paper, I wholeheartedly agree with what was said in this passage. A lot of things that Falk & Dierking pointed out really sat with me in a deep way, but one that I completely felt like needed to be highlighted, italicized, bolded, and capitalized would have to be on page 141, PDF page 4 where it says,

“Museums need not try to compete with
Disneyland, but they should accept that they are competing
for visitor’s leisure time and they need to be attuned to the
needs and desires of their consumers.”

True, museums are in competition with places like Disneyland and I understand that in order for them to face up to them, they have to make the necessary changes to their exhibits to pull in visitors. But there is a fine line that is set between the fun you have strictly for fun and the fun you have strictly for education. When I have a museum in mind, I don’t picture an arcade. That, to me, would be a waste of my time because I’m there to get something specific such as an educational piece for me to use in my daily life. To me, I believe a lot of people think like this and if museums try to compete with a fun activity in another spectrum, that could lead to ruin. Personally, I feel that museums are the one with the advantage versus Disneyland. Disneyland is seasonal, tickets are expensive to get in, you must pay to get on certain rides, if you’re hungry you can expect to pay an arm and a leg and let’s not factor in gas money and travel fees. Museums are the places that people go to when they know they don’t have the money to indulge in the reckless fun so they go for the fun they can afford and get something out of it.

 

This is an attempt to work with the framework of flow within J.H. Falk and L.D. Dierkling’s The Physical Context: Exhibits and Labels in their book Museum Experiences.

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Above is an image I took at the Smithsonian Institute in May of 2006 of the Hope Diamond, found at the Museum of Natural History.

Now, when 18-year-old Mitch was visiting the Smithsonian, he had exactly in mind what he wanted to see and in many was he was the person that Falk and Dierkling described as the person that did not read the labels.  When I walked into the Museum of Natural History, the first exhibit you walk into is the display of the Hope Diamond, the rest just appears to be a bunch of rocks and bones.  I did not read the labels because I felt as if I already knew what they were. There was a disruption of flow based on how Nakamura and Csikzentmihalyi describe in their article The Concept of Flow on page 92

Staying in flow requires that attention be held by this limited stimulus field. Apathy, boredom, and anxiety, like flow, are largely functions of how attention is being structured at a given time.

Walking into the Museum of Natural History, the first exhibit you see and everyone is gathered around it is the Hope Diamond, probably the most famous artifact.  Walking around throughout the rest of this museum went very much against what Falk and Dierking on page 74,

Museums are novel environments, full of strange and wonderful things.

Yes, the Natural History Museum is full of unique items, but the problem is, after seeing something like the Hope Diamond at the very beginning, everything pales in comparison.  It all looks like a bunch of bones and rocks and you are not sure if you are passing the same thing multiple times.

Later, visiting the Museum of American History, I feel as if I fell more in the range of Falk and Dierking’s notion of a person that reads labels — probably because I already knew much about the items there and wanted to both see them in real life and know more about them.  Really, the more I reflect on this and think more about the people I was with while in DC, I understand why I act the way I do in museums when the interest is there.  If I do not know much about the topic, or do not really care, then all I want to do is get through the exhibit and find something more exciting to do.

Chunking information in a subject area that is new to a visitor is not an easy cognitive task.  The visitor who already knows about Chinese ceramics will find it much easier to deal with a case full of Chinese vases, regardless of exhibit design, than one who knows nothing of the subject (79-80).

The flow of the museum is important, but however, if the visitor is there to see one thing and nothing else, especially if the most famous artifact is one of the first things you see, keeping people interested may be more difficult than expected.  Imagine if the Mona Lisa were in the lobby of the Louvre (I have never been there, so I cannot say if it is there or not). Would people go through the rest of the museum when the most well known artifact is at the very beginning?