Blog

Who is the public? A talk by John Falk

By: Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 19 May 2010

Who is the Public? Research in Identity in Museums, a talk by John Falk, Oregon State University, 18 May 2010.

Attended a talk by John Falk about identity today and here's my notes.

  • No such thing as the “public” – there are only collections of visitors
  • Visitors cannot be understood by starting with the museum and what we do
  • People visit to fulfil their own needs – these may not have anything to do with the museum
  • Therefore need to start from the visitors’ perspective, not ours
  • Many efforts to study visitors have taken place within the four walls of the museum
  • Visitors mostly have been described in terms of the kind of museum/exhibits or characteristic of visitor demographics
  • Gave example of survey conducted for California Science Centre which foundthat the single best predictor of who visited was lifestyle and what you did in leisure time (as well as income) – people who visit musuems aslo go to library, go on family trips, read books, etc
  • Visitor experience not tangible and immutable but rather an ephemeral and protracted relationship – need to think about the visit in terms of being a piece in a person’s life, and that the visitor experience extends beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of the museum
  • His research suggests the best way to understand the abstract relationship of visitrs and mujseum is through the lens of identity – although identity is a ‘very slippery construct to pin down’
  • Identity is complex and multidimensional: there is ‘I identity’ – who I think I am and ‘me identity’ – how others define who I am, can be tension between these
  • Visitors identities can be made indirectly visible through their descriptions of why they are visiting – their expectations and motivations
  • Identities are robust ways of describing visitors and there are five categories: explorers, facilitators, experience seekers, professional hobbyists, recharger
  • Falk has also identified two new categories – cultural affinity (to learn about themselves) and respectful pilgrim (motivated by sense of duty and obligation)
  • Memories and meanings are shaped by what the visitor sees and does as well as events that occur post-visit, emotions feature very strongly in memory

Implications:

  • By understanding visitors’ entering identity-related motivations we can customise experiences to provide them with what they want (or else just the tools for them to customise for themsleves I think)
  • We can influence why people visit and the ways they think post-visit about their experiences
  • It is not about creating different exhibits and programs – it’s about creating different visitor experiences
  • Visitors’ identity-related motivations tells us how the public perceives museums
  • John also discussed the problems with measuring long-term learning – the Australian Museum has done quite a bit of research in this area and here’s a blog post that outlines some of what visitors did after visiting our Indigenous Australians exhibition as an example of long-term learning


John also inspired me to revisit the sections of my thesis that look at identity and have written three more blog posts:

1 comment

Lynda Kelly - 7.05 AM, 21 May 2010

Forgot to mention this post about categorising visitors that relates to what Falk is talking about.

After my day visiting museums in Washington DC I'd like to add another category to Falk's: Hot, tired, cranky person - when you are overdressed, can't find the entrance and spend most of your time in the museum confused and cross coz you can't find your way around...

Report misuse