Fostering an Emotional Connection to Museum Content
by Juanita Chavarro Arias
Three attractions industry professionals came together on Monday to present different ideas and techniques they’ve used to create engaging museum experiences in “The Emotion-Based Museum Experience.” Anna Slafer, vice president of exhibitions and programs at the International Spy Museum, kicked off the session by discussing the museum’s transition to a new, purpose-built building with 25,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space.
“In an age of information overload and fake news, how do we create meaningful educational experiences that both excite and engage?” Slafer said, summing up the museum’s approach to planning exhibits with two words: delight and insight.
“The ability to gain insight and to learn is affected by your emotions, as is your ability to delight in and appreciate the world around you,” she said. “Together, these create memorable experiences.”
Slafer took attendees through 10 tactics the International Spy Museum uses to create delight—including setting the mood, choosing great stories, finding the drama, and creating empathy—and showed examples of exhibits and experiences at the museum that illustrated each.
Using Space Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as a case study, Diane Lochner, vice president of PGAV Destinations, spoke about the emotions of the entry experience—first engagement, process, decompression, and realization—and how it’s important to build an emotional arc, fulfill functional and guest needs, and complete the connection.
“We set visitors up in a strictly linear experience at the very beginning to draw them into a queue,” Lochner said. “During the queue experience, they’re subtly introduced to some quotes and stories about the people who were very much a part of the space shuttle experience, but it wasn’t an overwhelming onslaught of information.”
Cynthia Torp, owner and president of Solid Light Inc., discussed using emotional mapping as a method for developing a holistic visitor experience and presented an emotional impact map where red areas showed more intense moments of engagement while gray and blue areas showed moments of rest and contemplation.
“We want to take museum visitors on a journey, engaging their emotions through the use of science and psychology,” Torp said. “Our team intentionally plans the telling of stories in spaces to maximize the impact on the visitor, particularly difficult stories, by carefully pacing the flow to allow the visitor to have periodic relief from the intensity of the story by inserting places for emotional rest.”
Torp shared how her team was challenged with telling the story of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia, while reinterpreting a collection of artifacts to reflect the point of view of the new institution, which they accomplished with an emotional impact map tailored to the space.
“Understanding the science of emotion and the journey of an experience is critical to making an impact, one that elicits conversation and excites the imagination,” Torp said.