Our world today is connected in more ways than ever before. Companies strive to increase accessibility (physical, virtual and/or economic) as an effort for social responsibility and because it’s just good business sense. Only a few years ago, I would’ve never imagined being able to follow the thoughts of the people who I consider to be the “rock stars” of the museum and science world, but today the internet – and more specifically, social media – enables regular people to connect to museum workers and ask them questions. Whether this is through Twitter’s “Ask a Curator” day, you ask a question about a photograph posted to a museum’s Facebook page, or you e-mail a curator directly, there are more and more ways to have direct contact with an expert.
But how many of us use or even know of these different opportunities?
I have an unusually high interest in museums and I can’t be bothered to interact in these ways, mostly because I don’t just sit at home thinking of questions to ask curators. Although virtual conversations between museum experts and visitors are possible, these lines of communication are often slow and disjointed and can become confused or mis-interpreted (just like any other form of internet communication).
So the value of visiting a museum is not just that it has experts, but that it has experts readily available at the exact moment that you need them.
At most museums, visitors can take tours and/or speak with in-gallery interpreters who are often happy and excited to answer your questions. You are sharing the museum space with people who not only know about the subject, but are passionate about it. Contrary to what you may think, if you stump us with a question, we usually get excited because it gives us an opportunity (or excuse) to learn even more about our fascinating subject.
While it’s true that you may be able to search for your answers online, conversations with experts can often spark another question or an interest in a topic that was previously unknown. Some of the most interesting facts and subjects I’ve learned have been discovered by accident.
Experts are all around us. Here’s a tip. The next time you’re in a gallery and you have a question about a piece of artwork, say “hello” to a stern-looking security guard and ask your question. If you don’t have a question, ask about his or her favourite painting. You might receive a mumbled “I don’t know” or you might have a great conversation with a fellow art lover.
This is Part Two of the "Why Visit a Museum or Art Gallery" Blog Series.
Part One: Museums Cater to Multiple Intelligences
Part Three: Museums are an Immersive Experience
Part Four: Museums Can Encourage Social Interaction