Jana Macalik | Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada


The challenge of engaging students within the context of higher education has striking similarities to that of visitor engagement within museums and other cultural institutions. The rise and development of MOOCs (massive open online courses) as a methodology for expanding the network of information that becomes accessible to a student, affects how these individuals may expect to engage with cultural experiences as well. A generation of students who have interacted within the global and social context of technology, culture and self directed information gathering has become a generation of museum visitors that may expect an alternate experience; one that includes an investigation of engagement within museum exhibitions utilizing a collaborative approach to create an experience where the visitors and the curators come together to co-create work that is meaningful and intriguing. This can only be done with people from various disciplines and demographics. People are not alone in silos, so why would the museums be. To confront the challenges of today’s cultural landscape and to participate within the realm of social media, greater diversity is required.

Through the examination of two case studies, one being that of design studio project within an university context and the other one being a highly fanatical experience within science museum. The first is a recent studio-based project, in which undergraduate interior design students had the opportunity to self examine ‘identity’ and the visitor as an experiment of engagement within museum exhibitions of their own design. The premise was for them to explore and present a discursive space through global, social and cultural issues being addressed in current interpretations relevant to them and their peers. The tools and ideas to build a better experience surrounded them and were within their palettes as young designers. The goals of the project were to embrace new ways of thinking about how design can transform and activate positive societal changes through self examination and  spatial communication.  As a generation of new thinkers and idealists, these students had an opportunity to contribute and disseminate this change in ways that speak to their values and hopes for a better world, as well as engaging them and their non-museum going peers. The second case study is the Star Wars: Identities exhibit which was developed by X3 Productions in association with Lucasfilm Ltd. and the Montreal Science Centre. The experience is visitor centric, with the Star Wars narrative as the backdrop and catalyst for self examination. Both examples articulate how greater understanding and meaningful connection within an exhibition allows for personal reflection by the visitor; allows for socialization and connectivity within the visitor community/network; allows for explication and immersion for the curators and designers; and allows for a multi-faceted relationship between the institution and the visitor population.