Submitted by Jeff Buster on Tue, 01/09/2007 - 14:31.

view thru u

Suggestions to improve Museum Logistics, Museum Experience, and Museum Income:

1.  Allow scheduling of visit reservations via telephone or web even for folks with 1/2 price or gratis tickets.

2.  Supply gratis printed “program” duplicating text next to gallery objects.   

Last Friday with family and friends I visited the Cleveland Museum of Art to view the “Barcelona” Exhibit.  We had a few 1/2 price tickets and bought a few others at full price.

In order to use the 1/2 price tickets, the museum required that a complimentary ticket holder physically come to the museum in person to make a reservation for a specific visit time. 

So Wednesday prior to our visit, I drove to the museum, found a parking space, went in personally and scheduled a visit reservation for 3:00 pm Friday.  Then I went out, got back in the car, and drove home.  Having to physically show up at the museum to schedule a visit reservation is both  a waste of  time and environmentally wrong.   The museum should encourage reservations be made on the web or over the telephone.  It is a bit of a mean trick to feign a “reduced price” ticket, and then put unreasonable and time wasting conditions on the  “reduced price”  ticket which the museum knows, or should know, will result in those tickets being a pain to use.

Even though we had a reservation and had paid for tickets, when we arrived the exhibition hall was mobbed – so humid with moist humans jammed together in the dim light that it reminded me of being in a low-ceilinged locker room after high school gym class.

If you were prone to being impatient or claustrophobic, your visit woulda  been a bust.  I sort of gulped, took a deep breath, and tried to get into the mood…into the human current flowing room to room.

I got in the line of viewers snaking around the walls to view the wall-hung pictures and glass topped cases against the walls with books in them.  To the lower right hand side of each item was the usual descriptive text explaining what it was that the viewer was viewing, with the title of the piece, and the credits to the loaning museum, etc.  They were pretty interesting, but there was a problem.

These tiny print index card size text explanations were one reason that the lines were barely creeping along.    In order to read the text each visitor needed to be less than 3 feet away from the text – and thus the painting.   If two persons were reading the info about an image, one of the two persons had to be physically in front of the picture, which meant that person was rudely in front of the rest of the gallery viewers who were standing further back.   This caused a real hold up in progress through the exhibits.  Since each gallery was at max capacity, it wasn’t feasible to go look at something else and come back a bit later.  The crowd was not likely to be diminishing.

Making reading even more difficult and slow was the fact that the font point in the text type was small, the font was white against a sienna, tanny- brown background – the “theme” color of the Mediterranean - Pyrenees exhibit.  The contrast between white print and tan background is low.   I think it is a mistake to cause reading to be more difficult for the sake of pandering to a stylish color scheme.  Making the text even less visible was the fact the museum lighting was centered on the displayed painting or print, and not on the text explanation.   When’s the last time you chose to read the newspaper in a darkened closet?

The physical juxtaposition between being required to stand 12 feet away from a painting in order to view it most comfortably and enjoyably, and then being required to approach within inches of the painting to read about it would flagrantly fail any time/motion analysis.   I’m surprised that museums haven’t figured out what United Parcel Service has down pat…that the fewest steps to accomplish the task rewards everyone…

But forget about the museum visitor client.  Let’s go straight to the bottom line.  Tickets cost $12.00 each.  Museum clients are already offered an audio player which is keyed by numbers to many of the exhibit pieces.   The audio listeners usually stand in the middle of the gallery floor and don’t slow the progress of the other viewers. 

If the museum printed all of the explanatory text in a free brochure, clients wouldn’t even have to read it all during their visit, so the trip through the galleries could go much faster; – you’d be able to concentrate on the art, read about what you wanted, and read anything else later.  A web site should also carry the text, so you wouldn’t need to bring the printed hard copy home.  How many more visitors would go through the gallery in a day?  How much future traffic would the improved visitor experience generate?  How many people would see the brochure on your coffee table and go themselves to see the exhibit?

Let’s say that even 10 more clients went through in a day.  That would pay  an added $120.00 to the museum – much more than would be necessary to pay for the mass printed brochures which were handed out daily.

And if the Museum staff are uncertain how to increase their client flow and enjoyment through the exhibit, all the museum needs to do is call UPS to make a tax deductible donation by providing UPS’s time and motion experts to analyze and advise on improved flow-through efficiency.  You get the point…

Anyway, the exhibit was jammin!


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you sent this to the museum?

You sent this to the museum and are not just preaching to the choir here at realneo, right? Your points are well taken. I do hope that you will send these comments along to CMA staff and the new director, Timothy Rub. Good luck finding an email address for anyone at CMA on their website.

I heartily agree with you on the ticket purchase issue; especially with the museum under construction with very little parking available. We had the same issue trying to purchase student tickets online. It was impossible. I took it up on the phone with the Ticket Sales staff.

I don't pretend to know what the budget issues are for the museum, but I do know that they could handle presenting better and they need only to look at what the Met is doing bringing live performance to HDTV equipped theaters worldwide. They need to revamp the website, too. I think they know this. I suggested a ticket service called virtuous.com

There is a catalog of the exhibit in hardcover available at the museum store for $65. This catalog idea is pretty par for the course for the elitist museum crowd. They have bookshelves of them stored after months of lounging on living room tables unread or perused while cocktails are imbibed.

Excellent show - tough love experience

I agree with all your comments, Jeff and Susan. I went to the show last Wednesday with my parents, who have some pretty serious mobility issues. The parking in the garage was easy enough, but the walk up to the museum door is dangerous - I'd hate to do it in snow. The museum experience was far from in the past - the only art to see was the exhibit in the second floor space, yet everyone had to pass through the large lobby area and if crowded enough then wait in the holding room, which used to be the main gallery. That area could have featured some art - even local or from the permanent collection - so people waiting had something to look at. Other options for that area would have been models of the new museum (with a donation box) and preview info and some multimedia on the exhibit we were there to see... they also could have had the membership desk in there - every step of the process was a bottleneck. It was still very much worth the effort - and going the last week of the exhibit run was probably the worst time possible - so I'm grateful I was able to see the show at all - Evelyn tried to go with her parents on the last day and it was too crowded to get in at all. I imagine they'll have some of this working better for the next show, and it will only get better as they complete more of the construction, but that will take a few years, so for now we'll have to take what we can get. Perhaps some of your suggestions will make that better even in the short term.

Disrupt IT

I agree with Jeff's comments

I agree with Jeff's comments and I agree with Susan's advice, that Jeff's comments should definitely be sent on to the CMA. In the Museum's defense (I worked as a tour guide for the show), I think the attendance for the exhibition exceeded their wildest dreams and they were just simply unprepared for the number of people who came during the last days of the show. One thing I think might help is offering incentives to get people in the earlier months and weeks of the exhibition. Various discounts and promotions could be used to make traffic more consistent and spread the crowds over more days. Norm missed seeing it, but the membership desk was set up in the lobby with three people working. With the chaotic crowds entering and leaving it was hard to see. Members get in free, so it was often more economical to buy a family membership than pay $12 pp for your family's tickets. The last day there must have been a line 100 people long just to buy memberships.

I don't think the CMA ever thought there would be 1,000s of people waiting in lines snaking around the lobby, but they have done a better job in the past to ease the suffering of those who have to wait. The c. 1900 film of the Ramble that was shown near the top of the stairs could have been shown to those in line. It was a very interesting film but few who went thought the exhibition had time to watch the whole thing. Who wants to stand and watch a movie at the beginning of an exhibition. You want to get in there and see art! 3-D digital images of some of the pieces could also have been shown in the lobby. You might remember the 18th-century desk in the first Ingenuity Fest? CMA's tech wizard Jared Bendis created an amazing film that shows the ability of technology to help people experience art if they can't actually be standing in front of the work. Being a decorative arts scholar, I can really appreciate this technology  because furniture is difficult to experience through a traditional photograph. Though I am always baffled as to why, if the CMA can invest in this and see the value in technology in this instance why can't they have a better website that conveys something of the experience of going to an art museum?
I think a great website would have certainly help enhance the experience and help visitors to get through the exhibition more efficiently. It seems like this would not have been difficult to do because they took the time to create a whole gallery with computers and an interactive exhibit with many photographs new and original to this exhibition. I would think this could have easily been turned into a website! If people visited the website first, were familiar with the layout of the exhibition and knew what works they most wanted to see some traffic jams in the exhibition would have been prevented. I don't think a website with lots of information and images would have hurt ticket sales or catalog sales. It probably would have had the opposite effect. I hope Timothy Rub improves the way the CMA uses technology.

I not sure how I feel about a free brochure. I would be worried that a lot paper will ultimately be wasted. Some museums use laminated information sheets that are returned to boxes on the wall when you finish in the gallery. These are easier on the eyes than reading a label and they allow visitors to read about the works without everyone crowding around one tiny spot on the wall. I think a brief publication with the same information found on the labels (free or for a small cost) would have been very helpful though. It was surprising to me that nothing like this existed! The huge catalog is great. At $40 soft bound and $65 hard bound I think it is a good deal. It is filled with scholarly articles and has many illustrations, but it does not specifically follow the exhibition. For example, if you walked through the exhibition with the catalog you would not find an illustration of each work in the order it appears in the exhibition. I found this to be a real disadvantage. Sadly, the exhibition is for the most part lost after it closes at its second venue at the MET. The points the curators were trying to make are preserved in the catalog though.

Overall I think the Barcelona exhibition was a huge success. It took years for William Robinson and the other curators to pull it together. The result was a lifetime achievement and a huge contribution to the scholarship on Barcelona and the four big name artists: Picasso, Gaudi, Dali, Miro. There is already so much written about all four that it is an achievement just contributing anything new about one of them. The problems that have been discussed here are ones the CMA must deal with, some hopefully before the next exhibition which opens January 18th (Monet in Normandy) and definitely by the time the new building opens.


         Your’s is an excellent  suggestion that admission in the early weeks of the tenure of the exhibit should be less costly than during the last days of an exhibit.  This is a sure way to drive traffic away from procrastinating about attending.  Even daily cost adjustments to shift traffic to less busy hours makes sense and can easily be advertised on the Museum's web site.  Pavlov's dogs learned fast, the public will too.  Theaters have always done this with cheap afternoon fares.  Airlines do it. Let's get flexible and drive business efficiency.

As to paper concerns - I agree that paper is cumbersome - but every restaurant has a menu - in a plastic folder, and many restaurants change their menu daily.  Why can't the museum – even if they must charge a dollar deposit - check out "menus" for their exhibits?  This is so far from the catalogue costs of $45 to $65 that there can’t be competition with the high priced spread.  And if the museum is holding out on paper “menus” to leave only the forced option of expensive catalogues, I want to hear them say that.

And as you suggest, the "bombing of Barcelona" movie (or any other exhibit content)  -when there is a line - could be shifted to a flat screen in the waiting area to keep the itchy waiting clientele less aggravated.