As head of the Visitor Services department I have just spent three days visiting some of the most famous museums in the city of London – the British Museum, the National Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern.
In all of these museums I had the pleasure of meeting the heads of the various departments responsible for visitor services and of discussing with them issues to do with guided tours, audio guides, activities, accessibility, complaints, signage and tour management, including others.
Like the vast majority of cultural institutions in Britain, these museums believe that art and culture are not a luxury but a part of the DNA of a country or city and, as such, a necessity.
At the same time, and again on the principle that art and culture are part of the social fabric, these museums approach their working from the perspective that visitors and workers alike should feel they are part of the cultural institutions in question, creating social networks, collectives and initiatives not just for large numbers of people but also for a wide spectrum of audiences.
In seeking to achieve the goals of involving the public and making the institution an integral part of society the museums have generated a wide variety of activities: for example, the Tate Modern has become a regular favourite with local families, the British Museum also offers a range of special activities for children and young people and the National Gallery has, among other things, set up a series of agreements with the universities.
The extension of opening times has also made it easier for more people to visit the museums, and a wide range of guided tours aimed both at the general public and at specific groups, with an emphasis on accessibility, has opened up the museums’ contents to new audiences, with the invaluable assistance of the many volunteers who freely give their time and talents to the museum as part of their interest in and commitment to the legacy they conserve.
In all of these institutions feedback from the public and the museum staff is very important, and they all have questionnaires and comments forms for visitors to express their views and make suggestions. At the Tate Modern, for example, there are walls displaying the observations of visitors and workers, whether those delivered in situ or received online.
All of these factors and many more help visitors feel they are part of the culture and are actively involved in the creation and construction of a museum – not merely observers but participants who contribute to the construction of the institution and its programmes.
Here at the Museu Picasso we are opening up new lines of development in Education, Activities and Public Programmes. Enriching exchanges like this one with museums with such a wealth of experience help us understand where we are and where we are going, making the museum into a truly accessible space, generating knowledge and building the community.
What experiences or ideas do you have on how virtual and in situ actions can be integrated in the museum? In institutions with a high online participation, how can this be incorporated to the visit to the museum?