Over the next two and a half months I will be travelling throughout the US, UK and Europe. It is mostly a personal trip. Naturally I will be visiting a number of museums, galleries, libraries and other cultural sites and institutions. Some visits will be formal and I will meet with Education staff, others informal and I will visit as a ‘regular’ guest. Of course, when you work in a museum, visiting other museums is rarely the same as it is for other visitors. It often becomes an idea-gathering expedition, or an exercise in critical evaluation, and sometimes just general admiration of things like: the layout of exhibition panels, interactives, staff roles and contact… etc! As I visit various exhibitions I will be taking notes of my observations and thoughts, as a museum educator and also some notes as an impartial, if that’s possible, visitor.
Today I visited the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It is an impressive institution with natural history exhibits, a planetarium, an aquarium and a living rainforest display. It has quite expensive entry fee of 34.95USD. While I’m not opposed to entry charges or financially supporting a good museum, from the perspective of a traveller on a very tight budget it could be a deterrent. It’s a tricky line to balance on – charging a rate that allows an institution to remain open, look after its collection and deliver a quality experience for visitors, balanced with the opportunity for as many people as possible the chance to experience and learn from the collection. Having said that, the museum was definitely very slick and had a good number of highly visible and informative staff who interacted well with visitors. So even from the external viewers perspective, and not taking into consideration the behind-the-scenes research, the high cost does translate to good value.