How does the visit in the museum becomes interesting again?

How does the visit in the museum become interesting again? Is focusing on cultural mediation the solution?

Many museums have already recognized that more is needed than just to maintain precious treasures of art and culture and make them accessible to the public in order to attract and inspire visitors. Today, museums with a wide variety of collection hold family days or plan exhibitions together with schoolchildren. This year’s awarding of the first German Prize for Institutional Cultural Communication “ZukunftsGut” is another sign that change has long since begun. Artists and exhibition houses are not the only ones to deal with the changes and progress of our world through the new technologies and incorporate them into their work, but should also focus on their own future and development opportunities. The art and cultural scene can certainly not be accused of a lack of interesting themes and exhibitions.

Nevertheless, annual researchs by the Institute for Museum Research shows that fewer visitors are welcomed into German museums and sights every year. Only a few institutions succeed in attracting more visitors.


The first German prize for institutional cultural mediation “ZukunftsGut”

The intention of the Commerzbank Foundation was to honour and promote the most innovative ideas and concepts of institutional cultural mediation with the “ZukunftsGut” prize, awarded for the first time in 2018. The carefully selected jury consisted of experts, managing directors of major cultural associations, the coordinator of the European Heritage Year 2018 in Germany, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum New York and members of the Commerzbank Foundation.
In September 2018, the prize was awarded to the Schauspielhaus Dresden. In addition, the Historisches Museum Frankfurt and the Theater Oberhausen were surprisingly awarded second and third place.


What makes the award winners different?

To find out, let’s take a closer look at the three institutions selected for the Commerzbank Foundation’s “ZukunftsGut” prize for institutional cultural mediation:

The jury honoured the Schauspielhaus Dresden with first place because its community stages are the safest in the area of tension between preservation and contemporary presentation, according to the jury’s judgement.
The “Bürgerbühne” (community stage) is a concept developed by the Schauspielhaus whose fundamental element is cooperation with the citizens. The citizens work on their own themes with theatrical means and regularly present on the large stage of the theatre. The resulting productions are an integral part of the program. The jury saw this as the highest possible level of audience participation. Other theatres in Germany have already taken up the idea of the “Bürgerbühne”.

For its strategy of involving visitors, the Historische Museum Frankfurt was awarded second place. With programs such as the Stadtlabor or the collection check, the museum shows its sense of cultural mediation close to life. Frankfurt’s city history is made tangible for visitors.
Third place went to Theater Oberhausen, which in turn includes a large number of social groups in its productions and actions. What is also special about the task of cultural mediation here is that all employees contribute ideas and experience, regardless of their responsibilities.
The interaction and involvement of its visitors in the work of the house are currently popular and thoroughly effective approaches.


No photography! But why?

On the other hand, many museums have a ban on taking photographs, which is met with complete incomprehension by some visitors. A current discussion on Twitter, in which the Museum Burg Posterstein also took part, quickly showed that this ban can be well-founded for a variety of reasons or that it is only imposed arbitrarily. Most museums, however, pronounce the ban without explanation, leaving the question of the reasons completely open.

In some cases, however, there are undeniably very good reasons for banning photography that can be understood by every visitor, such as the danger of damage to works of art caused by lightning or the possible violation of copyrights. Adding these explanations to the prohibition signs would not require much effort.
In this context, it is a pity that many museums have issued a general ban on photography for the entire collection, although only a few exhibits benefit from these bans from a conservation point of view.


What can cultural institutions do to make the collection more attractive?

The possibilities that digitalisation – especially via social networks – offers for institutions are immense and are still being actively used by far too few institutions and are far from being exhausted.
Schloss Bruchsal (Bruchsal Castle) is quite different with its exhibition “#participate – make yourself a work of art”. A visitor-integrating concept was developed here, in which it is expressly desired to become active oneself and to take pictures. A great idea, as we think! Who hasn’t always wanted to paint Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa a moustache or pose for a photo with Edgar Degas’ dancers at the ballet pole?


Interactive exhibitions – is that enough?

Not only the aforementioned strategy changes, but also cooperative cities or even cross-national events such as Long Nights of the Museums, the Graphic Arts Weekend or the Museum Day grow with time, become more and more attractive and multiply.
But shouldn’t visitors be actively involved in the creation of exhibitions and events? Just as the prizewinners of the “ZukunftsGut” do. Because the personal identification of visitors with content in which they themselves have participated or in whose arrangement they have been able to contribute themselves can also lead to an increased interest in similar content. Certainly, it is still an important task of the artists and institutions that preserve culture to tread new paths of cultural mediation. To pick up the young visitors at home behind their screens, but still not to neglect and overload the art lovers with technology who appreciate the proven simple presentation of art.

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