One simple, low-tech way to turn visitors to your museum into participants is to provide a voting opportunity, accompanied by a regularly updated display of the results. You can ask for this kind of instant feedback on anything related to your institution and its exhibits. Most importantly, you can encourage the exhibit audience to become a part of the show.

Why not have participants vote for their favorite artifact after viewing an exhibit? Or even invite them to decide on an exhibition theme as the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore did for its summertime “Public Property” show? Or, pose several big questions or problems in the exhibit and have participants vote on which one interests them the most? Audience engagement strategist Linda Norris had success with this approach as a way to shake up the conventional presentation format at a recent AASLH session entitled, “Banish the Boring.”

One recent analysis found that rates of voting (as a way to participate in exhibits) were low among art museum visitors at three different museums (4% – 27%). Despite the relatively small numbers of attendees who chose to vote, the exhibition events that included voting were a big success. More people showed up and the voting process generated a noticeably more social experience within the galleries.

History museums often try to tell stories that tie in well with voting activities. Several state and local historic sites in North Carolina commemorate political figures. Voting could be a fun way to engage visitors with the subject matter. Create a short list of the major issues of the place and time. Briefly describe the stand that politician took on each issue; briefly describe the stand his opponent took; and give participants the ability to vote. The exercise could enliven James K. Polk, Zebulon B. Vance, Andrew Johnson, and Charles B. Aycock, increasing their relevance for today’s visitors.

Has your institution ever tried a voting activity as part of its exhibits? If so, did it increase audience engagement with the material presented? Were there any surprising outcomes?


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This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on November 6, 2012, in Exhibitions, historic sites, museums, public programs and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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