Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Connect with Audiences in Real-Time Situations? Use CARTS!

Public programmers in museums today face huge challenges. With reduced staff and shrinking budgets, they must nevertheless manage a public trust and an institutional commitment to provide visitors with content, relevance and inspiration. For any given exhibit or event, they're
expected to creatively:
  • Invite exploration and inquiry
  • Target audience interests
  • Appeal to awareness
  • Inspire personal connections
  • Engage visitor curiosity
  • Encourage interactive learning
  • Facilitate discovery and sharing
  • Drive attendance
  • Develop repeat visitors
  • Enhance the bottom line
For museums, zoos and aquariums, the stakes are high. We all understand the real mission: create new market segments and donor interest through aggressive advertising and outreach so we can capture the imaginations of a discriminating public that has ever-increasing options for how to spend leisure hours and dwindling dollars.

To meet these challenges head-on, museum exhibition and education departments have run a nonstop race for the past 25 years or so, looking for new ways to educate--but also to entertain and retain--the people who visit museums. And there's no end in sight. Because museums need a steady stream of visitors and the revenue they generate, we're pretty sure that exhibitions and the related educational programming will serve
as the primary public attraction well into the 21st century.

In order to keep exhibits and programs feeling up-to-date, educators, exhibitors and programmers have had to identify new tools and innovative ways of presenting refreshing, open-ended experiences day in and day out. Lots of them are experimenting with flexible program delivery methods like activity carts.

Carts answer the question of how to provide more activities for visitors while addressing that long bulleted list of expectations. Beyond relating museum mission messages to local school curricula, carts are family-focused, visitor-friendly and interactive. They can move from place to place. They're simple. They're affordable. They're fun.

Maybe the best thing about carts is that they're based on one of the oldest and most reliable forms of audience engagement: direct, one-on-one human contact. A museum visitor meets a museum staff person face-to-face--on the floor, close to the habitat, in front of the painting, next to the tank.

Great exhibits and their related programs inspire audiences to forge personal links with what they see and experience, inviting them to connect with new ideas in memorable ways. Carts help this happen. They bring staff and objects to the museum floor, providing self-contained platforms for open-ended, immediate exchange with audiences. By putting staff, objects and new ideas into direct proximity with visitors, carts become platforms for meaningful conversation.

Museum Explorer has developed a host of program carts for museums and zoos alike. Visitors and museum professionals couldn't be more pleased with the results. In addition, we were invited to present our work with carts at a Smithsonian Institution roundtable this spring. Watch for more details to come!