Storytelling in Museums: 3 Problems


Riona Romeo asks, “Can an exhibition be a story?” in this article, where she points out several challenges facing museum exhibitions as storytelling medium.

1. Exhibitions are often nonlinear. You cannot necessarily move people through a story or story-like experience, such as those carefully crafted by Disney parks. Essential information must often be repeated.

As Imagineer John Hench said, “You do not throw people into the fifth scene, where they cannot make sense of what is happening. You begin with the first scene and move through.” … I’m not suggesting that museum exhibitions should function like Disney rides but the fact that they don’t makes storytelling more challenging.

2. Reading while standing isn’t ideal. Reading while standing in a room that may be crowded and loud, with children who may need to be supervised or entertained, is truly less than ideal. (Here’s where the idea of the convivial museum comes in.)

3. Text is often academic and difficult for people to read. It can tend to sound like a lecture or reference book.

Most exhibition text is written, or at least drafted, by curators, who are essentially academics with objects in their custody. In my, albeit limited, experience these curators have often already written their book or exhibition catalogue before they even consider the exhibition itself. … A story is best written by a practised storyteller but storytelling is a craft that is not often represented on exhibition teams.

Conclusion? (From this summary article at Wired UK):

“The best use of story in museums,” according to Romeo, “is for the deep interpretation of one object.”

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