Promoting a more leisurely museum experience
Museums move fast these days, trying to keep pace with competing entertainments by presenting rapidly changing exhibitions, interactive technology and trendy cafes.
So Lisa Junkin, interim director of Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, plans to hit “pause” with the Slow Museum Project, funded by a $40,000 grant from the American Alliance of Museums.
The project, inspired by the Slow Food movement, “re-envisions the museum as a site of recreation, reflection and respite,” she said.
“We’ve organized Slow Food programs for five years, and we want to apply ‘slow’ ideals — thoughtfully sourced ingredients, worker advocacy, savoring what we consume — to the museum experience.
“Quick fixes may capture visitors’ fleeting attentions, but they also contribute to the larger problem of an overworked and over-saturated society.”
The museum is housed in the Victorian mansion that served as home to Addams and other reformers as well as headquarters of the Hull-House Settlement. The reformers defined leisure as the basis for culture, and therefore critical to learning and socialization.
Today, the museum staff eschews most fast-museum techniques, yet works quickly to present programs that address urgent social issues — maybe too quickly, Junkin said.
“Ironically, we haven’t allowed ourselves enough time to evaluate our work and ensure meaningful visitor experiences,” she said.
Junkin says Slow Museum techniques can include unguided tours, an artist-made “reflection room” with musical components, playful visitor evaluations, poetry writing, communal meals and games.
She is looking at techniques devised by two early Hull-House residents: sociologist Neva Boyd, a leader in the modern play movement; and Viola Spolin, who is credited with inventing improvisational theater. Boyd wrote extensively on children’s games. In a previous exhibition, the museum offered cards describing improv games devised by Spolin.
The museum also plans to continue its Slow Food and other programming. It has switched its long-running Re-Thinking Soup food discussion series from the hectic lunch hour to a more leisurely dinner time, with the next installment set for Oct. 17, 6-7:30 p.m. at the museum’s Residents’ Dining Hall.