Just what are “interpretive materials”? I’m often asked this question and usually have a hard time reducing my answer to one or even five things, as interpretive materials change with time and vary from one exhibition to the next. For the purpose of brevity in this post, in a nutshell, they consist of exhibition didactics, labels, brochures/printed guides, audio tours, podcasts, and more. Notably, they also include our visitor comment books.
One of the many goals of interpretive materials at the Brooklyn Museum is to consider the various ways that people learn (e.g. through text, sound, drawing, sharing, etc), to offer new ways for our visitors to experience and engage with objects and to keep the older methods current/relevant. If you’ve visited our permanent collections in recent years you may have noticed some unique labels which offer responses to and interpretations by our visitors to specific works of art – we call these “Community Voices.”
It’s important to me that in addition to these practices in the physical exhibition, that such object interpretation and, really, education progress alongside technology; in the age of web 2.0 learning is essentially communal. Earlier this year my colleague, Shelley Bernstein, and I decided to try something new, replacing paper comment books with electronic comment kiosks for our special exhibitions Global Feminisms and Kindred Spirits. The overwhelming participation and positive feedback, both in the galleries and through our online comment forum, made it a very successful initiative.
As Shelley mentioned in her last post, Let’s Hear It, we are rolling out a new version of comment kiosks for the exhibition Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art. Now visitors have the opportunity to not only share general comments about the exhibition (as earlier offered), but also to comment on specific objects. In this, the Brooklyn Museum mission and subsequent tradition of Community Voice labels continues (and evolves). We wait anxiously to hear your thoughts.
Nicole J. Caruth, a native of the California Bay Area, is the former Interpretive Materials Manager at the Brooklyn Museum. She received her BA from San Francisco State University and an MA from the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY). As part of the Museum's new Exhibitions Division she works with various departments to further visitor accessibility through exhibition didactics, in-gallery interactives and the Museum's website.