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Innovation in animating spaces: ‘Messing up’ the Darwin Centre and pulling the crowds
The third of four blogs from TiLEzone London 2013A Different View attended the 8th TiLEzone conference at London Transport Museum in March. With an impressive list of guest speakers the conference focused on lessons learnt from the London Olympics, the importance of personalising visitor experiences and emerging opportunities in the Far East. In a series of blogs we share with you some of our insights from our visit to TiLEzone.
The new Darwin Centre at the National History Museum is a striking piece of architecture with wonderful exhibits, but just a few yards away from the packed Dinosaur Gallery of the main museum, it was virtually deserted. Only 20% of visitors were visiting the Darwin Centre galleries and so former TV director, Sarah Punshon, was commissioned to create a special arts events programme and pull people into the Darwin Centre.
As a one year pilot programme in 2012/13, an innovative programme of creative activities targeted family visitors over the August Bank Holiday and October and February half terms. With the help of science educators, actors and volunteers, the aim was ‘to bring mess, colour and life’ to the otherwise still and pristine space of the Darwin Centre and create personalised experiences for visiting families.
The events had a dramatic impact on the numbers of people coming in to the Darwin centre but this was perhaps not surprising as the activity included actors ‘adding children to the collections’ with a giant entomologist’s specimen net! Children were placed in large display cases, they were asked to write questions on specimen cards ‘for the collection’ and generally asked to do various fun things. Visitors loved it, commenting that ‘the NHM has a wacky, silly side!’ and ‘the best thing I’ve done in a museum!’
Despite massive investment (the Darwin Centre cost £78m when it opened in 2009), a brand new gallery and stunning architecture is not a guarantee of audiences, especially if the space is away from the main visitor flow. Genuinely creative animation however can bring spaces to life and pull in the crowds. But it comes at a price – it’s labour-intensive and costly, and probably only feasible at a limited number of peak times.
Photo: Natural History Museum