Schools are defined as places of education and instruction. We go there to learn about maths, science, history and geography amongst other things. What they are not, are places to experience the reality of these subjects. True you may watch the odd video in the classroom, have someone bring in a relic or replica for a history lesson but schools have always been places where we sit and read or are told about the world. Museums are the place for experiences.
Imagine walking into a large room. Through the hustle and bustle of people you are presented with an incredible creature, towering above you, daunting and beautiful, dead for millions of years yet no less impressive in stature and impact but dwarfed by the cathedral like space engulfing everything you see. If you go to the Natural History Museum, London, you will be able to experience this in infinitely better quality than words could ever craft, just by going through the front door.
The sight of a real, fossilised dinosaur’s skeleton is something which has fascinated children for generations and they are only one subject museums grace us with. Science, art, nature and history are all on offer and experiencing them in a museum environment can breathe new life into something previously experienced in limited context.
Books and film can give us information and images, but within the confines of two dimensions and audio leaves a lot to the individual’s imagination whereas a museum can provide you with the all of these as well as the real thing, people to tell it to you and people to share it with. There is a hypnotic novelty and enchantment to being told a story about one of Henry VIII’s wives by someone dressed and acting as Henry VIII himself. Museums offer interaction, information and the space to explore the building blocks of the world we live in. They are archives for humanity and nature and the only mainstream access to extinct creatures and practices which once influenced this planet.
blackbox-av produces interpretation products which lend themselves to education and information. The Video Frame 15 for example is capable of holding up to 15 video, photo or audio files, an invaluable resource which gives room for variety, interactivity and high quality content. Our PIR (movement) activated sound stores encourage interactivity with exhibits, providing information without being intrusive or disruptive to a person’s visit, become a part of the environment rather than an addition. blackbox-av’s products are designed to work hand in hand with content and in context with their environment, but like all good interpretation, they are nothing without institutions, exhibits and information.
With funding being cut to museums and other art and culture institutions, the government is putting our experiences at risk. It was reported in July 2011 that up to a fifth of museums had received budget cuts of up to 25% resulting in complete closures, the introduction of entry fees, closure of exhibits, laying off of staff and reduced opening times. From an education point of view, a separate report from The Observer showed that schools were cutting back or completely stopping trips to museums and art galleries as they could not longer afford to pay for substitute teachers to replace staff on trips. The report also highlighted that educational visits were capable of improving performance, behaviours and personal development in students not to mention that such trips were the one opportunity many children had to experience museums due to restricted family time or finances.
A secondary impact to these cuts is the effect it has on the interpretation industry. As technology becomes more common place, cheaper and more accessible, interpretation in museums is making greater use of media devices such as video and audio players with interactivity being at the core of many installations. The use of technology reflects the changes which have taken place in society over the last thirty odd years, where computers, touch screen devices and media have become expected, as they are the centre of our personal and professional lives. If museums can’t afford to keep on staff or to stay open, how will they be able to afford interpretation or equipment and media to better relate to visitors and make the most of their time.
There has been considerable outcry in response to these cuts as museums and other art institutions not only serve as educational institutions, they are also days out. A museum is a place to go with friends and family to marvel at the world and its treasures and it is interpretation companies who facilitate this through our work. They exhibit our history, our greatest triumphs and gravest mistakes and remember; those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.