Thinking about audiences

There have been some interesting challenges already in bringing this exhibition into being. One that we are still resolving is how we make an exhibition about children that is not only for children.

Naturally we want children to come and enjoy the exhibition – they are an important part of our audience (23% of visitors to MAA come in family groups). We will be employing someone to work with school groups while the exhibition is open and are already planning drop-in events and workshops aimed at children and adults. But saying that we are doing an exhibition about children often makes people think that this will be the only target audience.

It is a delicate balance. We would like all our visitors to learn something when they come to view the exhibition without feeling patronised or that it is “not for them”. But how do we translate the academic research that we have been analysing into something both meaningful and accessible? How do we create an environment in which both children and adults feel welcome and able to make their own discoveries? What can we do to facilitate learning on a topic where the subject matter is often hidden or close to invisible? And how can we create opportunities for intergenerational conversation around the exhibition themes?

A lot of my research in the University of Cambridge Museums has looked at the way visitors use exhibition spaces. We have a reasonable idea of how little time people spend reading text panels and what sort of displays capture and hold attention. We need to be clever in the way we layer information so that even the most ‘time poor’ visitor can still capture our main message. We hope to include elements that will appeal to our younger visitors and help them to understand our main message as well. Finally, we hope to use one of MAA’s best assets: our team of gallery attendants, many of them volunteers. This group will be some of the strongest advocates for the exhibition, so the project team will be spending time with them, giving them background information and presenting the research so that they can, in turn, help all our visitors.

Sarah-Jane Harknett, Outreach Organiser, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology

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