Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Work with what you’ve got

Trying a new exhibit technique or interpretive approach is often relegated to new projects. Traditionally we think up a new exhibit, work on getting every piece as ready as possible, and building it. Once built, an exhibition receives few changes. We are just happy to get it done. We toast the funder at the opening, and the funder sees a shiny new project that they helped make happen. The stakeholders yet to be engaged are the exhibition's audience. After living with the exhibit for a few years, as museum professionals, we may have a very good idea of what works and what does not, and we vow to do things differently next time.

The alternative model involves changing your present offerings after you have a chance to see what works and what doesn’t for your audience. Modifying an exhibition is much easier and less expensive than creating a whole new family exhibition. It is also an opportunity to illustrate the value of testing with your visitors and implementing family learning guidelines at your museum without breaking the bank.

Other reasons to modify a present exhibit include:

  • Encouraging visitors to discuss particular aspects of an exhibition that they appear to be overlooking
  • Increasing the appeal of an exhibition that you believe can be more effective
  • Adding a new layer of interpretation to an exhibition that will appeal to a family audience.
  • Increasing the overall level of engagement between visitors and an exhibit

Kids Flaps in the War and Peace Exhibit

The core exhibit at the USS Constitution Museum is Old Ironsides in War and Peace. A number of years ago we conducted a small tracking study. At the time none of the staff had formal training or experience evaluating exhibits. We simply wanted to know how long visitors spent in the War and Peace gallery and what they did. While the lack of overall reading in the galleries was a wake up call, one exhibit element was getting better than expected use: Kids Flaps.

old kid flaps

Kids flaps

Many adult visitors only stopped to read the Kids Flaps! We also had adult oriented Timeline Lift Flaps in the second half of the exhibition.

timeline lift flaps

Timeline lift flaps

These were not used nearly as much. We decided to replace the Timeline Lift Flaps with Kids Flaps and use the Kids Flaps to communicate the basic messages of the War and Peace exhibition.

new kids flaps

New Kids flaps

The new Kids Flaps were a simple exhibit modification based on visitor feedback.

  • The cost for new Kids Flaps was around $250 in materials
  • The content for the new Kids Flaps labels came from research already done for the present War and Peace exhibit
  • The new Kids Flaps replaced an ineffective exhibition element with one visitors used

We communicated our core messages to visitors who would have otherwise missed them.