I had been hoping to visit MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) for quite some time, so I was pleased to finally make there last week. I had heard a lot about MONA and their mobile experience ‘The O’ at various Museum conferences and gatherings, so I had quite high expectations. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed and it lived up to the hype. A visit to MONA is quite a powerful experience.
Photography is allowed inside the museum, but publication on websites is not allowed without permission. So I will share only images of the entrance.
I arrived at MONA by car, rather than ferry. When you enter MONA you travel to the lowest level by a cylindrical lift or spiral stairs that wind around the lift. You emerge into a cavernous hall with towering stone walls. This entrance really set the scene for the visit. It feels like you are delving into something deep, unknown, confronting and surprising.
Mobile Devices for Learning on Excursion
Mobile devices have great potential to transform the excursion experience of students, making it more relevant, personalised and richly informative. Traditional museums are sometimes limited to panels and labels for providing information and context to their collections, while outdoor museums, like Sovereign Hill, are sometimes limited by the absence of explicit information on panels and labels. While museums are engaging in innovative and enriching interpretation techniques on top of this, mobile devices offer a broader, and simultaneously more explicit, interpretation experience.
The last day at the MA and IA conference began with another contrasting mix of keynote speakers. First was Professor Ross Gibson who talked about the power of art to transform a person and the importance of considering emotions and aesthetics when planning exhibition to encourage this transformation. I understood the ideas he expressed and I have seen the power an aesthetically thoughtful space can provide, but I thought the ideas were possibly over-analytical for a good portion of the audience and that some practical suggestions could have made the information more useful.
Last month the Asia Pacific branch of the International Museum Theatre Alliance (IMTAL) hosted the international conference – Access All Areas. The conference was held a various institutions in Melbourne and included a day with us here at Sovereign Hill. It was a fabulous conference, for the two days I attended at any rate.
One of my key areas of interest during the visits I made to museums overseas was the use of mobile applications for interpretation and engagement. This is an emerging field with many varying levels of involvement from museums and organisations (*I use the term ‘museum’ in this article to broadly cover a wide range of cultural experiences and sites). As I work in an outdoor museum it is something I am particularly interested in exploring as an interpretation tool in the absence of traditional labels and panels. Therefore, while I was travelling I looked at a number of different mobile applications and considered their strengths and weaknesses from a visitor’s perspective, perhaps with a slant towards learning experiences.
Over the next two and a half months I will be travelling throughout the US, UK and Europe. It is mostly a personal trip. Naturally I will be visiting a number of museums, galleries, libraries and other cultural sites and institutions. Some visits will be formal and I will meet with Education staff, others informal and I will visit as a ‘regular’ guest. Of course, when you work in a museum, visiting other museums is rarely the same as it is for other visitors. It often becomes an idea-gathering expedition, or an exercise in critical evaluation, and sometimes just general admiration of things like: the layout of exhibition panels, interactives, staff roles and contact… etc! As I visit various exhibitions I will be taking notes of my observations and thoughts, as a museum educator and also some notes as an impartial, if that’s possible, visitor.
Today I visited the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It is an impressive institution with natural history exhibits, a planetarium, an aquarium and a living rainforest display. It has quite expensive entry fee of 34.95USD. While I’m not opposed to entry charges or financially supporting a good museum, from the perspective of a traveller on a very tight budget it could be a deterrent. It’s a tricky line to balance on – charging a rate that allows an institution to remain open, look after its collection and deliver a quality experience for visitors, balanced with the opportunity for as many people as possible the chance to experience and learn from the collection. Having said that, the museum was definitely very slick and had a good number of highly visible and informative staff who interacted well with visitors. So even from the external viewers perspective, and not taking into consideration the behind-the-scenes research, the high cost does translate to good value.