A SWORD IN A STONE: THE FUTURE OF MUSEUMS
Museums are an important point of attraction for many people for many reasons over the years. We used to visit them as a part of a touristic program as well as see them as an educational or entertainment venue in our everyday life. And the concept of what the modern museums should be like is very different from a decade ago and still dynamically changing.
Most people born in the USSR, or in the former Soviet countries in the early 1990s, can describe their experience of the museums in a ‘don’t touch it’ way. For a long time, a typical Soviet museum (and many other ones around the world) provided services like excursions and lectures in a highly formal way where visitors could only observe pieces of the exhibition and listen to the guide or teacher. It’s not good or bad, just a common model of classical education. It’s reasonable to say that this model is sustainable for museums of history, art and other directions related to fragile or unique exhibits – we definitely have to do our best to keep them untouched.
At the same time, the last twenty years gave us a new model’s explosive adoption and hybrid solutions for museums. Thanks to modern technologies and destination marketing programmes modern museums are more interactive and ready to provide the new experience in a practical way. Nowadays, school children can visit the museum of science not only to observe Faraday’s Cage, but to carry our experiments for example. Sometimes we see a whole show as a part of the experience. Experience has become the key aspect of the museum’s concept in comparison with simply content as it was thirty years ago.
Today we have a lot of things to try in many different ways outside the museums. And things we can see in documentaries and need not go to the museum to see it at all. It doesn’t mean that we need no museums, moreover we can say that it is an essential part of our life, but what is it indeed? We can see it in the example of libraries. Today many libraries in the UK, USA, EU and other countries are changing their main function from the resource centres to the community centres. People spend time reading and discussing books in a club format, join different events like author’s talks and public lectures. Libraries are social hubs. The same thing is happening with museums. The difference is that, unlike libraries, museums already have narrow themes and practical ways of interacting with their visitors, so we can’t just place a wide range of events into the shell of every specific museum. But it means that the museum can do what the library can’t do – create a holistic experience for changing our social lives.
This change is visible in the example of the ECG museum project called “Elish and Superheroes”. This is the first international museum, for children, dedicated to the exploration of autism and inclusivity through a unique medium. The project is not trying to just be a place for people on the autism spectrum but rather promoting the inclusion of such people into social, cultural and business relationships.
The philosophy of the project is built around the thesis that everybody can become a ‘Superhero’ – a valuable and significant part of a team or society. And even though the museum is oriented to children and teenagers it also will work with the aim of the inclusion of adults with autism in society.
That’s why this museum is not just an educational project FOR autistic people, but also a space for anyone to learn more ABOUT autism and its impact to human life. So, the key concept is to display Elish (a hero with behaviours that parallel autism) among other well-known faces, showing that not only is Elish like the rest but that his unique behaviour is a key factor in his success (as seen by many famous individuals with autism).
Autistic people live beyond the common feeling of time, they are more concentrated on the process and their inner world. This is why it’s so hard for them to be integrated in society’s idea of social relations. In support of the central concept of the museum we want to design the space to consider two main mechanics of interaction between the museum and the visitor – slow down the rhythm of activity and make the interaction more tactile.
The first mechanic is about changing the speed of moving inside the space of the museum. The structure of the museum building is built on the principle of a labyrinth, so visitors can’t walk as fast as usual, constantly making decisions as to where to go next. Obstacles, carefully placed, also help slow visitors down, while laser lights focus the attention.
The second mechanic is concentrated at all of the five feelings instead of just one – visual perception. White noise like sounds of rain, symphonic music or other sound effects are absolutely necessary to develop the concept of the museum and the exhibition. The sense of touch is probably the most important channel of perception for autistic people and people with HIA in general. Different materials on surfaces, the curves of the space and natural elements like rocks, water and plants will make the experience deeper and brighter.
Smell and taste may be overlooked yet they are very influential senses. We want to include a ‘superpower cocktail’ with the admission ticket to welcome visitors and create a good mood from the very beginning.
The first museum of its kind is planned to be built in the city of Schuchinsk, Burabay National Park (Northern Kazakhstan) in the summer of 2024. It will be a part of the ECG HORIZONS Burabay Creative Residence of the Eurasian Creative Guild. The complex will include not only the museum itself but also a playground equipped for HIA children as well as appealing to all the local youth. The playground will be related to the museum, being themed as a superhero’s workout. The museum will become a venue for cultural and educational events, showing the creativity of people with HIA to the ECG international audience.
So, the point is that visiting the museum of a new concept is not only about learning or trying something new but about becoming someone new throughout the unique experience. It’s like a quest when you need to take a sword out of a stone to become a king and hero – a quick transformation based on the very artificial environment.