never say a commonplace thing

My colleague Sarah sent me this link to an amazing blogpost about museums inviting public participation and response through the opportunity to write letters.

The last four points are fantastic advice to anyone thinking about curating responsive worship stations:

What makes these visitor response stations so successful?
– They force people to slow down. Whether you are working a typewriter or writing longhand at a writing desk, the overall experience implies focus, intent, and taking your time.
– They have an intended audience. When you write a letter to someone, even someone dead or fictitious, you know who you are writing to. You have a clear image of that person in your mind, and you are motivated by your desire to connect with them, not a general desire to express yourself.
– They imply a response. When you send someone a letter, it’s the beginning of a conversation. In the case of the John Murray Archive exhibition, staff continue that conversation. In the other two examples, while visitors don’t receive a response, they have opened up a mental conversation with Snoopy or Jack Kerouac to continue at their leisure.
– All of these stations were well-designed to fit into the overall exhibit experience. Letter-writing was the heart of John Murray’s enterprise. The typewriter was central to both Snoopy and Jack Kerouac’s stories. These visitor response stations were natural to the stories being told, and they were designed thoughtfully using the same kinds of tools as those that produced artifacts on display. The response stations allowed visitors to stay within the emotional space of the exhibits rather than wresting them out into a generic comment board or book.

If I were to distil everything i’ve learnt about curating stations it would come down to this: make sure the response arises from the installation, rather than simply being a predictable action [never get people lighting candles just because people like lighting candles…]; leave things unfinished and questions unanswered, so it relies on participation to continue the story; make it as personal and relevant as possible, recognising that each person has a story that they want to be told…