By John Sawvel
Humans have the extraordinary ability to tell stories. You can find great examples of this in the museums with which we have worked. However, in these spaces we too often rely solely on our sense of sight to convey our stories. What opportunities are there for developing impactful storytelling through our other senses? Let’s explore a couple ways exhibits can be heightened by developing the unseen.
Imagine a small upright bonnet case displaying a beautiful antique violin. As a repeat visitor you’ve seen it before but it’s a favorite, so you approach it to admire it once more. You’re familiar with the story that’s told on the graphic explaining its origin and perhaps how its owner's favorite song to play was Red River Valley. This time it’s different. Once you’ve reached the case the soft sounds of an old violin begin emitting from the display. You soon recognize it as the song written about in the story. Your admiration for this charming artifact and its story grows while your experience is altered and heightened.
There’s more than one way to look at something. Take for example an old surveyor map, rare book, and silver coin. Imagine each of these items displayed in a case. What do your guests see? A flat map hanging against the back of the case? The book propped up on a stand? A coin face up on a pedestal? In a typical scenario this is what your visitors settle for, a single view of a multi-sided object or document. Many repeat visitors return because they have a genuine interest in your collections and you can bet they would love to see what was previously unseen. Wouldn’t it be great to discover a handwritten note on the back of the map, dozens of pages from the book exposing its contents, or the design on the back of the silver coin? With just a few photos depicting various views of the same item, a simple touchscreen can be programmed revealing the mystery to your audience and encouraging them to further explore.
Captivating a repeat audience can be a challenge. Use rotating exhibits to provide guests with fresh collections and content year-round. In this same way, revised graphics provide diversity of imagery and short stories to keep visitors visually stimulated. Lastly, surprise guests by engaging them with the sights and sounds that were not experienced previously. Consider these methods and practices to ensure repeat visitors remain interested with new experiences for years to come.