I work as a Museum educator. The other day I hosted a small group of Year 12 girls (around about 16 years old) who visited the Museum with their art teacher to draw the African masks and statues in Minkisi. The students worked really well and made some amazing drawings.
At the end, their teacher gave them a reminder that there was just 5 minutes to go before they had to leave for school. A couple of the girls asked, “Can we go down to the House of Bones?” When he said yes, a small group of them RAN down the stairs, squealing with delight. What was so fascinating to them?
The House of Bones is set up as a 1930s era house of a professor who collects bones, and fills his house with them. There are animal skulls in the bookcases; crates of bones in the hallway that seem recently delivered, but not yet unpacked; an office with old oak desk, typewriter and assorted handwritten letters and notes; and a newspaper lined attic with chests of bones for hands-on investigation.
Why did this excite the teenagers? Possibly because it is a little bit dark, a little bit weird, and a sound-track of strange creaks, scrapes and footsteps makes the “house” feel a little bit creepy.
It is interesting that after being up for just two months, with lots of different activities for children to do, there are some local children who have already visited House of Bones so often that they have completed all the existing activities, and are asking for new challenges. Although I’m not surprised that children are interested in the bones and want to come and see them, I would never have guessed it would attract so much repeat visitation from both children and teenagers.
I think it shows that the way that we design exhibitions can make an enormous difference to the way people respond to museum objects and collections.
Margie Beautrais is an Educator at Whanganui Regional Museum