Wednesday, June 8, 2011

5 Museum Visits That Changed My Life

From the desk of Tim Willis, 
Director of Exhibitions and Visitor Experience

I learned recently that the wonderful exhibition developer, Judy Rand had written about museum experiences that changed her life. One of them was the moment she smelled apple pies baking in the kitchen of our Old Town gallery at the Royal BC Museum. This got me wondering if I could say the same. Had I experienced a museum visit so profoundly affecting?
Well, indeed, I've had a few. Here are five of them I'd like to share them with you:

1. Weather Permitting exhibition at the Minnesota History Center
For me, this is a text book demonstration of how to tell a story simply and powerfully. With a simple setting – a basement ‘rec’ room and a few props - a bare light bulb, an old radio and television and a basement window - one is transported in just 8 minutes into a the heart of a terrifying [ and particularly topical] event – the effect of a devastating tornado.

2. The Lifeline at the Churchill Museum, London
The Lifeline is a 15-metre-long interactive table on which visitors 'open files' documenting each week of Churchill's life during the war. I chanced upon the day that the Battle of Britain started and a squadron of Spitfires in silhouette flew down the entire length of the table. It is a superb and surprising application of technology.
3. Michelangelo's David, Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence

I've never had my breath taken away by an object - well, perhaps once when I received a rugby ball in the face - but I've never been so moved by an inanimate object. He’s is bigger and much more beautiful than I'd ever imagined. The approach to David at the Accademia is an exercise in extraordinary anticipation. (Michelangelo's David Photo: David Gaya License: {{GFDL}}

4. The Akely Hall of African Mammals, American Museum of Natural History, New York
Is it any wonder that the museum has not changed this space in eight decades? It's old school for sure, but still a wonder!

5. Wilson Fur Suit, Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, UK
My first museum... well the museum I loved as a boy in my home town in England. On my way home from school I would drop in a stare at a simple display of artifacts in a case, including a fur parka that was owned by Edward Wilson. Wilson was Robert Scott’s closest friend, and died with him in 1912 on their terrible trek back from the South Pole. He grew up in my hometown and his story inspired me through my life and left me an insatiable interest in stories of exploration.

Do let me know: what museum moments have stuck with you and why?

Tim Willis

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