During my brief 8-week stint as intern for the Marketing team, I have had the pleasure of talking with visitors about the current exhibition Jean Genet. In fact, you may have been one of the hundred whom I recently spoke with. If so, thanks a lot! Your feedback is invaluable. How fascinating it was to hear from so many different people – each bringing to the gallery a unique set of knowledge, skills, interests and life experience that colors their interpretations and impressions. Such inner workings of visitors are incredibly important to museums and galleries today.
You see, museum professionals have recently begun to sense a massive shift in practice – one that is affecting everything from methods of exhibiting and writing about objects to the way we harness the ever-changing nature of digital innovation. Perhaps the most significant change happening in the field is the acknowledgement and affirmation of the “visitor voice”. Whether an art gallery or science museum, a country house or castle, or even a museum about quilt making – we're all chasing after what it is exactly that makes visitors tick. What makes you want to go to a museum or gallery in the first place? What causes you to enjoy your visit? What prompts you to come again?
Frankly, the act of looking doesn’t seem to be enough for people any longer. With the prevalence of the Internet, and its endless array of tantalizing information at our constant disposal, we require more complex and engaging content, don’t we? That and good cakes in the café. When in a gallery space, we want to be taught, entertained, uplifted, challenged, and inspired – depending on our mood and time available. We want to learn something new, feel connected to other people and places (both online and offline), experience good design, good food and, at times, just have a moment to “get away from it all”.
Like other cultural institutions around the world, Nottingham Contemporary has begun to take visitor suggestions to heart. When not spotting the Zebra around town, I have been analyzing comments and statistics in an effort to decode the various needs and wants of an increasingly diverse audience base. For Jean Genet, we received such great feedback that staff are thinking about what to do moving forward that will boost what works well and alter what doesn't, enabling visitors to enjoy their experiences in this place all the more.
It is an exciting (albeit daunting) time for museums and galleries in the 21st century – just as it is for libraries, charities and commercial businesses. Everyone is trying to remain relevant as the world becomes smaller, smarter and faster. With this in mind, as I shortly leave the UK in pursuit of my American roots, I can safely say that there shall never be a dull moment inside the walls of Nottingham Contemporary.