Participation: Personalizing the Exhibit Experience

Map model of urban history

Participation in a museum is about creating relevance for the visitor. As the audience participates with gallery interactives and program activities, they are discovering “What does it means to me?” Participation places the visitor in the center of the exhibit content and from there they can better judge how does the content relate with them. The visitor transforms from observer to participant in an unannounced process of adopting  a role. In their role-playing, they can experience the content as a person and not merely in the abstract. For example, they may explore "What is it like to be a scientist, an artist, or someone living in the 1700s?" In this manner the exhibit design invites the visitor to find a relationships between themselves and the topic of the exhibit. The experience personalizes the content because the visitor’s sensibilities, temperament and values are part of the interpretation of the material displayed.  Consequently, the visitor has a memorable experience because they make deeper connections with the story.


Social Value: Participatory interactives in the galleries add a social context to exhibits. Naturally other people besides the visitor are part of the experience. They too are busily performing an activity or leaving VGCs (Visitor Generated Content) that literally add more content to the exhibit. This participation is in turn a performance to be enjoyed by others and it too communicates. When visitors look at others participate they appreciate the relevance and appeal of the content in a wider audience. This scenario reveals a validation of the content. As such, it begins to answer the question, “Why is it important to know this?” When visitors see themselves and others perform for the sake of a topic, they see what exhibit content means to them. They can see if the content makes connections and if it triggers different reactions in others. The visitor/participant, can see if the topic is important to others.

As the audience participates with gallery interactives and program activities, they are discovering: “What does it means to me?”


Performing the museum’s mission: Participation as performance is also valuable means of communicating the museum’s mission. As the visitor participates in the diverse activities, he or she is also taking-on a role. This role parallels the charge that the museums ask from the visitor in their mission. For example, the National Constitution Center wishes to make betters citizens of its visitors. All of NCC’s interactives are about performing citizenry. Art museums are on the mission to “fuel creativity, ignites minds, and provides inspiration”* Consequently their Program and activities must follow suit. In this manner participation becomes a means of defining the relationship that the institution has with it audience and community. The experience represents a brand message as well. As visitors perform they are vouching for the institution and for what it stands for and in this manner the visitors begin to own the museums mission as their own

Social Participation: In Lab environments visitors role play the process of innovation.Social Participation: In Lab environments visitors role play the process of innovation.



participatory-museum-exhibit-design-me2Performing the Museum’s Mission: Honoring veterans in an exhibit makes evident the social value of understanding history.