Last week I visited the huge Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona and spent four hours just walking through the exhibits. Whenever I visit a historic site or museum, the first thing I often do is just walk through the entire place to get an overall sense of its organization, design, and content, rarely stopping to read labels or watch videos. At MIM it took four hours. Thank goodness for the cafe. I haven’t seen so many guitars, violins, drums, or bagpipes in my life, but I guess that’s the point.
Along the way I spotted a couple unusual interpretive and fundraising techniques that caught my eye that might interest you:
1. MIM has the usual big donor walls in the lobby but next to the exit door, they have a colorful digital version for current donors along with an eye-catching donation box. The big touch screen is divided into two sections: the top half has announcements for upcoming events and volunteer opportunities and the bottom half has a scrolling list of donors for the last twelve months. Because it’s digital, it can be easily updated (but of course, requires someone with IT skills for maintenance). A navigation bar lets you choose the donor category by size of gift from $250 to $5 million+. Next to the digital display is a donation box featuring the shiny silver bell of a sousaphone with the message, “Blown Away? Join Our Band of Donors” and a window so you can see your money fall inside. I bet this encourages kids to drop their change (or encourages kids to tell their parents to drop a dollar). Clever eh? And notice there’s nothing else around it–no clutter of chairs, signs, or plants to keep visitors focused on support as they leave the museum.
2. Interpretation at MIM relies heavily on wireless headsets that are automatically activated as you approach an exhibit. The headsets consist of a pair of light headphones connected to a Sennheiser GuidePORT device, which is slightly larger and heavier than the old classic iPods. The device controls volume, holds a rechargeable battery, and contains the antennae that receives the audio in the exhibit. Most of the exhibits have a monitor showing a series of short videos of musical performances or a demonstration of their manufacture. The videos cycle continuously and when the visitor comes within about ten feet, the headset connects to the audio. When you finish watching a video, you can take a couple steps, and watch a different video on another monitor without touching the device or punching in a number. The exhibits can be packed tightly with video screens without worries about sound bleed and turning the exhibit galleries into a cacophony of sounds. However, it wasn’t perfect. About five percent of the time it wouldn’t connect to the video and I had to watch it in silence (and when it’s a musical performance, a silent video isn’t very helpful). Secondly, visitors (especially kids) occasionally dropped their devices. Every time I heard the smack on floor, I cringed. The admission desk provides lanyards to hang the audio system around your neck, but not all visitors use them. Sigh.