ART TOURS TIPS AND RESOURCES MUSEUMS TOUR GUIDES
In a recent blog post, Nina Simon, author of The Participatory Museum, a book that talks about practical innovations to enhance community and visitor participation in the museum experience, looks at the simple yet effective model of a “customised” tour guide employed at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Seattle.
Like the majority of museum-goers, Simon’s disdain for historic building tours supplied by worn out verbal drone machines is unabashed. For Simon however, this necessary component was made special by what she calls a “customised” tour guide.
What made it so special? The guide, Vi Mar, was an incredible facilitator. She did several things over the course of the tour to make it participatory, and she did so in a natural, delightful way.
Simon notes four distinct points that made her experience special. First on her list is creating a friendly and participatory environment. Here’s how Simon says Mar did it:
There were eleven of us on the tour, all adults, mostly couples. Vi started joking with us about our relationships and hometowns while making sure we all remembered each other’s names. She made it clear from the start that we were expected to address each other by name and have fun with each other.
Next, Mar repeatedly drew on personal stories and anecdotes, encouraging friendly interaction between the visitors and the tour guide. Her own relationship with the museum objects was part of the tour. Simon says,
We walked into her (Vi Mar’s) family’s historic association hall and a replica of her uncle’s dry goods store. She showed us her name on a donor wall in the museum. Again and again, she told personal stories of her interactions with the historic and monumental people and events she described. She was political. She told family stories. It felt like she was letting us into her world in a generous, funny way – and that encouraged us to relate and share as well.
Simon claims that these tools could be employed by any museum. She says,
Participatory facilitation can be taught. Passion, confidence, and personal connections to the content – those are the hard things to teach.
Four ways a museum can improve their tour experience
- Create a friendly and participatory environment at the beginning of the tour
- Encourage open interaction between visitors and tour guide
- The tour guide should draw on personal stories and anecdotes and should encourage visitors to share their views
- Keep the tour light and humorous
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