And the winning topic is …

topicsAnother month, another topic study, another way to make myself unpopular with my colleagues. Yes, it’s exhibition topic testing time again!

I have been testing out exhibition topics that would appeal to museum visitors for many, many years. While the topics are different and varied, there are a number of things I’ve gleaned from this work:

  • A topic appeals if people know just enough about it to intrigue, but not too much so they see there’s more to learn (think deep sea, and ants!)
  • A topic appeals if it makes “sense” and seems a natural fit for the organisation – think dinosaurs for a natural history museum, boats for a maritime museum and science for a science museum
  • A topic appeals to teachers if it ticks curriculum boxes, but is also of personal interest to the teacher
  • A topic appeals to families only if it is seen to engage the children – both in subject and execution
  • A topic appeals if it is in the news – in a good or bad way
  • A topic appeals if it is slight scary (spiders) or slightly kooky (tattoos, zombies…)

A topic does not appeal if it:

  • Doesn’t tick the above
  • Is seen to have been done to death – think Egypt, sometimes
  • Is too obscure – think an artist that is not well-known outside the arts community
  • Doesn’t bring a new perspective to an old subject – think historical Indigenous cultures (as visitors really want to learn about their contemporary stories)
  • Could be seen as “controversial” – think religion, politics, and even climate change for some
  • Is seen as related to “school history” – this = boring in many adults’ minds
  • Does not have a link to the curriculum for teachers (no matter how tenuous)
  • Visitors can’t visualise the topic as an exhibition, and therefore fear it will be a boring experience, even if the topic is of interest

Of course these may seem obvious, but still useful to bear in mind.

Best of luck choosing your exhibition topics! And don’t get me started on what to call them, that I leave to the MIT Random Exhibition Title Generator

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