Thursday, March 7, 2024

Small Museum Spaces = Big Visitor Experiences

On a recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston with my family, I was impressed by not only the big exhibition galleries and art but also some smaller, more intimate exhibition spaces.

In particular, the Musical Instruments gallery was a perfect "right-sized" museum experience.  As you can see by the section of the museum map from the MFA below, the space is barely bigger than the nearby ticketing desk area.

However, while small, every aspect of the Musical Instruments gallery was polished to jewel-like perfection.

To begin with, the space was slightly off the main entrance and easily missed if you were rushing into some of the special exhibition galleries.  Unlike most of the galleries in the MFA, Musical Instruments was sealed by a heavy glass door that blocked out the sound from the rest of the museum.  This was highlighted by the soft music playing inside the gallery --- very appropriate considering the subject of the gallery's contents!

The instruments on display were unusual and interesting (like the ceremonial trombone pictured at the top of this post). Because the space was small, with only a few other people inside, it rewarded careful observation and concentration. Minute details that might otherwise be glossed over in the hustle and bustle of larger MFA galleries were instead admired and appreciated.

The Musical Instruments gallery experience felt like an exhibit oasis in the middle of the MFA.  As a visitor, I appreciated the respite and felt recharged to explore some of the bigger, busier galleries.

So here's to small museum spaces!  How might you add a small or quiet moment to your museum or to your next exhibit project?

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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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