Episode 1

1. Lobby

Your Hosts

About this Episode

The lobby is where you transform from an ordinary person into a museum visitor.

In this first episode of Museum Archipelago, host Ian Elsner introduces the show and describes the transformative power of the museum lobby.

Topics Discussed:

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Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 1. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above.

Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I’m Ian Elsner.

Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes. So let’s get started.

In his architectural study of the British Museum, J. Mordaunt Crook says that the modern museum is the product of renaissance humanism, 18th century enlightenment, and 19th century democracy. This project takes aim at this widely held sentiment.

The landscape of museums has always been shaped by the people who created them. They institutionalize their biases, filled the collection with objects looted from far away places, as part of European colonialism, and presented themselves as enlightened luminaries in a world of superstition.

Today, the landscape of museums is changing. With each episode, Museum Archipelago brings you to a different museum around the world, highlighting fundamental museum problems and introducing you to the people working to fix them. So why museums? Well museums are the only buildings, aside from maybe a school house, where you enter expecting to learn something. You might even be open to experiencing something new. For many, they still feel like a trusted institution. Even when almost nothing else does.

The medium of a museum has proven powerful, and it all begins in the lobby. This is where you first see the admission price, if there is one. This is where you first judge how busy the museum is today, and what you can expect from the quality of the exhibits. This is where way finding is introduced. This is where you come in from the outside. The lobby is a transformative space that turns ordinary people into museum guests, and at the end of the day, museum guests into ordinary people.

This is done through a series of transformations supported by the services of the lobby. As part of a study on museum lobbies, Erik Kristiansen, et al. noted that at a particular German museum, many people would try to get as close to the information counter as possible, to get information about the prices without yet coming in contact with the staff behind the counter. These people are dividing the lobby as a transformative space into the exact point where the transformation happens.

As a retailer will tell you, people are more likely to buy an object in a store if they’ve already touched it. Once the outside person comes in contact with a front desk staff, the transformation to museum guest is almost complete. We can think of extending the transformation point as long as possible.

When Walt Disney built Disneyland in California in 1955, visitors would go through the ticket purchasing counters immediately before entering the park. By the time the Magic Kingdom opened at Disney World in Florida in 1971, the lobby, sort to speak, was extended out several acres. Guests would buy a ticket but they still weren’t in the park. Instead, they would hop on the monorail or a boat to get to the park. A journey that takes at least a few minutes and a few miles. This journey serves to lengthen the transition time between person and guest. To make the guest feel the feeling of being whisked away from the real world and into the fantasy world. By the time visitors actually entered the park, having disembarked the monorail or boat, the rather unhappy experience of buying a ticket was now literally miles away. The lobby transforms you. Welcome to the show.