Wednesday 5 February 2014

That's just the way I like it

Tiffany Jenkins is angry. She's angry about all this leaning over backwards museums are doing for children and teenagers:
The exhibits, the labels and the whole feel of a museum is now more aimed at the young rather than you and me. This does both adults and children a disservice. We visit museums to know more about past human civilisations and in order to appreciate what they have created, but so many are now so dumbed down for a youthful audience that we learn very little of substance – that’s if we can concentrate with all the clamour. 
Even the innocuous fluffy comes in for a pasting:
One museum I visit not only has a children’s menu (which is perfectly reasonable, before you act all shocked) but also sells babyccinos – that’s coffee without the coffee, ie warmed frothy milk in a plastic cup.
This is Jenkins in December 2013. It's not the first time she's decried the child-friendlisation of museums; in 2009 she was hitting the same notes
Museums don’t have to be turned into playgrounds to be enjoyable. When I was a child it was adult spaces that appeared mysterious and attractive. I wanted to stay up late, go out when it was dark, listen in on adults’ conversations. I wanted access to the intriguing life of a grown-up. I was keen to be treated as older than my years. 
Museums can offer an exciting world if they get off their knees and stop apologising for being quiet and popular with old folk, or different from computer games or shopping. 
Both articles are attacks centred on two things - the Kids in Museums project, and Jenkins' personal preferences around museum going. Jenkins would like kids to shut up, stop expecting to be treated like they're special, and learn politely from the grown ups; she'd like museums to stop making tits of themselves, chasing a part of society who's not interested in their limited attractions.

Her argument, in many ways (amped up as it is for click-bait), is not that different from a recent article by Wendy Earle, decrying the focus on digital technology in museums. Earle likes minimal interpretation, dark corners, and quiet. She'd like museums to stop dumbing things down, sexing things up, over-explaining and playing with whizz-bangs.

If I've learned one thing from the past year and a bit, it's that no-one will be happy with anything you do. But people rarely write articles about what they loved or enjoyed or learned from, what made them nostalgically happy or excited or curious. I've learned, for example, never to read the visitor feedback forms first thing on a Monday morning, because nine times out of ten, they're people (quite within their rights) explaining why they hate something you decided to do.

So, do me a wee favour. Next time you go to a gallery or a museum and you are struck by how much you've enjoyed the experience, tell them. It'll do the world of good.

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