A few weeks ago, Sarah and I attended an Arts Council Conference at the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery. This conference enabled the team to showcase the new exhibition space and their approaches to historical interpretation. Shrewsbury Museum integrated aspects of art and historical objects throughout their premises. Their intention was to be inclusive and incorporate artwork to enhance the understanding of the past and vice versa. This is evident also through their inclusion of artists as curators for historical exhibits such as the Geology display. The aim here was to focus attention directly on to the object.
From this conference I learned that you should maximise the space you have available. Shrewsbury had limited wall space for their Stuart collection so used the adjoining corridor to showcase what they held. This meant that less objects were in stores and the public had a greater variety of things to see. The space was small but it was used effectively and definitely had a greater impact than leaving a blank wall.
I was taught that you should show that you do not have all the answers. Be honest and open up to interpretation; let your visitors make their own decision. This shows that you are not patronising and you are not assuming that every historical slant you give is correct. An example of doing this is to include historic debate within your signage; Shrewsbury chose to do so with their Roman mirror. Behind the object were two opposing images of how the mirror was held, one showed a slave holding the mirror and another showed the owner twisting her arm to hold it herself. Neither image was said to be right, the visitor was able to determine what they thought for themselves.
The staff at Shrewsbury were responsive to customer feedback. They would listen to what their market had to say and then act on what the majority thought would benefit the museum. This could mean a few setbacks but it shows that you are willing to continually develop yourself. The focus is on the people and what the people want, not just the objects anymore. Listening to and acting on feedback shows that you really do consider the needs of those who visit your museum. You need to be willing to change in order to survive.
Thanks for reading and have a Merry Christmas!