Wednesday, July 4, 2007

IMAX or IMIN? (Is smaller better? Part 1)

A recent discussion on the ISEN-ASTC listserv dealt with visitors' visceral (sometimes literally!) reactions to big screen theatre shows.

While there is no argument that such shows are often lots of fun, are they really the best way to allocate a museum's precious resources?

John Bowditch, from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
coined the excellent term "IMIN" as an alternative to the often overwhelming confluence of bombast and technology employed inside museums.

It is interesting that many visitor studies show the value of human-scale interaction inside museums. Also, formal and informal surveys of visitors' positive memories of museum experiences invariably relate to a positive interaction with one or more museum staff members.

If "human scale" experiences in museums are so important, why do so many museums continue to tout big screens and blockbusters? I'm afraid the field has often let funders and fundraising call the tune rather than visitors --- it's "easier" (so the common wisdom states) to raise money for BIG stuff rather than more subtle experiences. But even interesting human-scaled experiences can use technology and be "sexy" to donors, like this installation from the Royal Ontario Museum.

How to break the BIG cycle? Create more small museums and small experiences that set out to "whelm" visitors rather than "overwhelm" them.