Sunday, July 07, 2013

The joy of weekday museum visits


Meeting for cake last week, I found myself with time to spare in Birmingham Museum. Wandering up to the new(ish) Brummie Gallery, I found only 3 other people there. Fantastic.

The problem with a lot of museums is that they like to do more than just stick things in cabinets. Now we have to be interactive and exciting. All well and good but if there is more than one of you, these don't work that well for a group as opposed to a single person. Anyone who remembers the Millennium Dome will know what I mean - the building was full of 1-person things to do. I went on a quiet day and even then walked by quite a few interesting looking places because you could only enjoy them one at a time.

Worse, if you are enjoying something, you're likely to gain an audience breathing down your neck and wishing you'd sod off so they can have a go.

The display shown is a good example. It's very clever, the tools are firmly fixed down but if you touch one, it starts a short film. This focuses on a particular manufacturer who makes something interesting - whistles, pewter castings etc.

Of course, I want to see them all and because I had the display to myself, I could. And they were all interesting, especially the Acme Whistles film.

Had the gallery been busy, there would have been spawns of Satan children running by and whacking the tools. Every time they did this, a new film would start. Kids are always doing that sort of thing. They don't want to see the presentation or watch the machine work, they just like pressing buttons. Despite this, we have to make everything child friendly.

Enough. Grown-ups appreciate this stuff and we are the ones paying for it. Lock the children in the "Victorian child experience" where they can be showed up chimneys and down pits. The rest of us who are genuinely interested will do the learning. Thank you.


neil whitehead said...

Do you have children, Phil or had a bad experience with one recently?

Phil Parker said...

It's just that we live in a world where everything must be done for the children when actually they could be aimed at children AND adults.

The films were fascintating but the attitude seems to be that children must be entertained by whizzy flashing things at all times. Sometimes the objects should be fascianting enough in their own right without added razamataz. Sometimes adults need the same information as kids to fully understand the objects.

I'm a fan of the idea that you can do things for all ages at the same time. Why divide people up when you don't have to?

Phil Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I might also have suggested the interactive "Victorian Classroom Experience" - complete with disciplinarian teacher, who aims a board rubber at anyone who answers back.

Joking aside, I think your comments are very fair.

I often travel by bus - usually an enjoyable experience - but not if some badly behaved ankle-biter is "sat" behind me, screaming in my ear, trying to touch everything with sticky hands and kicking my seat every 5 seconds. Not if their "parents" do nothing to sort out their runt - but threaten to "sort out" anyone who dares to complain.

Thankfully, most nippers aren't like this - most are well behaved.

Also, chances are that most don't care much for those "museum exhibits" which consist of a board and some sliders - and ask you to guess what colour is behind one of them.

I get the impression that what museums display - and how they display it - are sometimes governed by the whims of so-called "interpretation experts" - some of whom, I would respectfully suggest, appear to be more like "instant experts", who think they know it all ... .

It strikes me that, if any of these "interpretation experts" actually took the trouble to ask most kids - well most people in general - what they really want, they'd probably be told in no uncertain terms to get rid of this patronising rubbish - and consign the "fun palaces" and "bouncy castles" to the one place everyone expects to find them. I am, of course, talking about the foyer of a well-known, Swedish-themed, flat-pack furniture emporium.

I'm all for museums trying to make themselves interesting for the next generation of visitors - but there are much better ways of doing this. Some museums have started offering talks - and tours - led by real people, who can tailor what they say to their audience and answer questions.

As for the museums in Birmingham, I think they're very good indeed - I've even done a number of long coach trips, just to visit them - but I'm careful to avoid school holidays.

If I'd wanted to be surrounded by kids, I'd have had kids of my own. I don't - so I give them a wide berth.