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Today’s museums must connect with visitors, but how?

Written by Thailand News

Museums and cultural institutions bring learning to life, enabling members of the public to get close to history and culture. They are able not just to educate adults, but also help them unwind as well as encourage young visitors to learn, play and create through quirky exhibits, creative programs and fun activities.

To help museum workers reconnect with their visitors after many of them were forced to close in order to safeguard the well-being of their staff and visitors during the Covid lockdowns, an expert in museum and cultural studies offers some tips on how to better visitors’ experience and meet their needs in order encourage them to keep coming back. She also shared how to develop a deep connection with young audiences and design programs to draw their attention.

Vivid Ethnicity exhibition in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Putting visitors at the heart of the museum

Asst Prof Patoo Cusripituck, a lecturer of the Cultural Studies Program at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia (Rilca), Mahidol University, noted that understanding visitors and audience development are key aspects of running a museum as the factors can ensure its growth and sustainability in the long run.

“As museum workers, I think we all want visitors to have a positive experience while they are making a visit to our museum. So, you need to look at what you offer to visitors and find out how to make a visit better and more valued,” she said.

To achieve this, museums and cultural institutions need to determine who their visitors are and look into their interests, habits and lifestyles in order to build a connection with them, she added.

“Understanding your visitors is vital – who they are, what they are interested in, their likes and dislikes as well as their concerns, motivations and wishes. Once you have this information, you can use it to improve the visitors experience through better displays, programs and activities. It can help you develop a deep connection with your visitors and make your museum appeal to more people,” Patoo said.

The expert explained that if your museum is targeting young visitors, you should come up with activities that are interesting and fun. Ideas and information should be presented in an interactive way to keep them engaging.

When you set up an exhibition for older adults, meanwhile, the content should relate to their lifestyle, something like universal design and their safety. Relaxing activities can help them destress and keep calm.

For local museums and cultural institutions in particular, she noted that workers may need to put more effort into promoting the most striking features of the venue, what to do and which attractions are nearby so that visitors see the visit as being worthwhile.

“Local museums are able to give a sense of community and place. They also offer a great way to get to know the rich history and learn culture. But some tourists have no idea about the place and don’t know what to do there. Spending two hours travelling to the venue then walking around for just a few minutes may be not worth it for some people,” Patoo said.

She suggested local museums work with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and operators of museums in other cities to promote their venues and create riveting activities and programs to grab the attention of potential visitors.

Vivid Ethnicity exhibition at Mahidol University Salaya Campus.

Museum of Cultural Anthropology

Patoo also shared how she and her colleagues work at the Museum of Cultural Anthropology, managed by Research Institute of Languages and Cultures of Asia (Rilca), Mahidol University, Salaya Campus, in order to connect with its visitors.

Located on the first floor of the Institute, the Museum of Cultural Anthropology opened in 2001. It exhibits academic work carried out by Rilca’s professors and lecturers as well as the academic progression of the institution and their social services. The museum also serves as an educational practicum that provides an opportunity for the university students to learn museum studies in preparation for a museum career.

“Students can gain hands-on experience and practical insights into the activities and the workings of a museum,” the lecturer said.

Interestingly, the museum is equipped with a permanent exhibition dedicated to the ethnic minority groups of Thailand including Phi Thong Luang, Yao, Lisaw, Muser, Karen or Paka-Kyaw, Hmong and Dara-ang or Palaung. The exhibition features a display that shows the unique history, culture and social life of the groups.

There is also a corner for kids where they can paint paper dolls wearing the traditional costume of the ethnic groups and play with them.

“Young visitors who make a visit to the museum can write down how they feel about the museum and the exhibition. We encourage them to express themselves in an appropriate way,” she said.

Fun goes on the road

The Museum of Cultural Anthropology also runs a mobile exhibition on ethnicity – the so-called “Vivid Ethnicity” – to bring museum to schools, museums, communities or any pop-up locations where people can enjoy an immersive interactive experience. The program aims to promote cultural integrity through quality and virtuous learning.

“Vivid Ethnicity is an educational outreach program we created. It’s portable version of our Museum’s displays which can be set up at different locations for disadvantaged members of the community to explore. We aim to travel anywhere in the country to educate others. We went to provinces in the north and down south. We once went to Krabi province. It was fun,” said Patoo, who is interested in designing museum exhibitions to foster education.

According to her, this unique innovative learning space has both online and off-line libraries giving information about Thailand’s ethnic groups. There is even an ethnic coffee shop and a museum shop that offers authentic ethnic products for sale.

Activities at the mobile exhibition.

 “Play, Learn, Earn” program

The Museum of Cultural Anthropology together with its partners has also initiated a “Play, Learn, Earn” program, aimed at developing and fostering critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills in students who participate in the program.

“We encourage students to think outside the box, think critically and learn through discovery,” said Patoo, who is the program’s director.

She added that her team has applied transformative learning and designed a thinking approach to empower them to see the social world differently and solve problems practically and creatively.

As such, her team lets students engage in project-based learning that allows them to discover and solve real-world problems by themselves and gives them the freedom to acquire new knowledge.

“We give freedom to them to learn what they what to learn. When they choose what they want to learn, they will learn better and more effectively. We encourage whatever methods make them comfortable learning,” she said.

She explained that her team urges students in different groups to identify a problem they are facing, say a social problem or a situation in which they are involved. They are then asked to explain and analyze the problem as well as create their own solutions.

Students have come up with several problems including bullying in school, learning loss from Covid-19, adolescent pregnancy and stray dogs.

“They came up with the idea of creating a mobile garbage bin to help reduce waste, and safe sex reminders to solve teenager pregnancy. A group produced street dog rescue T-shirts for sale. They raised money to help our four-legged friends.

“By participating in this program, students can learn through play. On top of that, they can generate income to help solve a social problem.” Patoo said.

By Veena Thoopkrajae

Photo courtesy of Museum of Cultural Anthropology at Research Institute of Languages and Cultures of Asia (Rilca), Mahidol University.

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