The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan is home to countless works of art that inspire and illuminate. But, for those who seek a more visceral and interactive experience these still life paintings and drawings can seem too static and inaccessible. This is particularly the case with young children and some visitors with disabilities. Often these individuals want to engage in a more direct way with the art. Of course, visitors cannot touch or move most of the artworks at the museum. That’s where innovative museum exhibit design comes in. It’s why the Museum of Modern Art developed the Community and Access Programs department. This department focuses on exhibition design that is more appealing to children, as well as that which can provide a more engaging experience for individuals with disabilities.
The Museum Of Modern Art’s ‘Material Lab’
One of the results of this focus on broader accessibility is the ‘Material Lab’, an interactive museum exhibit that is designed to give visitors a tactile understanding of the materials used in creating art. In the Material Lab, museum-goers can feel different materials and enjoy interactive experiences such as a touchscreen-based painting program where visitors can use their hands to create artworks of their own. Children can build artworks using different materials like cardboard and various types of paper, and visitors with mental or physical handicaps can get a more tactile experience that they can really enjoy.
Kirsten Schroeder, the Coordinator of Community and Access Programs at the Museum of Modern Art, explains that a lot of work went into making the exhibition design meet the needs of handicapped individuals.
“While planning the lab, my goal was to make sure the space and activities were accessible to a diverse audience. [We] agreed that offering a broad range of tactile, sensory experiences was necessary to engage visitors with different learning abilities,” she writes in her blog on the museum’s website.
Schroeder describes how touchscreens were made to respond to individuals with less dexterity and how the screens were designed to manipulated, moved, raised or lowered to be accessible to those in wheelchairs and who have limited use of their limbs.
Museum Exhibits That Are Accessible And Engaging
Good exhibition design always starts with anticipating how visitors will interact with the exhibit and designing it to be engaging to as wide an audience as possible. This is also true of trade show exhibit design, but for museum exhibit design it is particularly important. While some modern art museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern have created more interactive and engaging exhibits like the Material Lab, museum art and exhibits have mostly been a passively consumed fare for most of history, and for the most part they continue to be to this day.
It’s good to see that efforts are being made to increase accessibility for handicapped individuals through creating interactive exhibits like the Museum of Modern Art’s Material Lab. Hopefully this trend will continue, making museum exhibits more accessible and broadening their appeal in order to introduce new demographics to all that museums have to offer.