By Maria Mortati
Recently, our office did a survey of "Learning Lounges" for a client. I thought it would be helpful to share a few of our findings here. What's a Learning Lounge, you ask? These are zones that are informally or formally delineated from the exhibit spaces in museum where visitors can do self-directed study, reflection, or informal learning-styled activities. Often these activities reflect the content of the exhibits on the museum floor. SFMOMA Koret Learning Lounge One of the most-used by the largest age demographic (and also has the most, err, sophisticated audience) was the SFMOMA Koret Learning Lounge. I'm aware others may have written about this fabulous redesign of their former classrooms. It's just such a good model it's worth revisiting. Flexible Space for Different Times of Day or Week: the opaque glass panels you see throughout the space are used to both conceal, offer privacy and also serve as a projection surface. There are various changes in materials and carpeting to alert you to a change in activity or age. There are spaces to sit and read, watch a video, for kids to play-- and it all opens up to expand or contract depending on the programming needs. Activities for All Comers: the thing I like the most about this area is that there are multiple layers of engagement. From high engagement building activities to low engagement (physically, at least) passing-through or perusing. The space is set up to accommodate all. Ron Davis in our office took the SFMOMA pictures, and here are a few things they had going on recently: - hallway contributive art installation involving crayons, pens, and notebooks (see image at top) - building exercise with cardboard at the ready for groups or individuals to build large sculptures - videos about current artists in the museum - books on the shelves to remove and read at your leisure - computer workstations with links to learning lounge and SFMOMA online activities - kid friendly area with soft furniture and simple creative materials It's Staffed... Lightly: as you'll see at left, there is a counter with a staff member present, but it's perpendicular to the entrance. So you can feel free to walk on by, or ask for help. Behind the counter there is a sink, and a doorway to and office. Get Inspired by African Art at the Denver Art Museum I've written a bit about this before on ExhibitFiles- a museum exhibit development resource sponsored by ASTC. The Denver Art Museum does a great job in several spots throughout the space to create areas for pause, reflection, and activity. This particular exhibit does somethings very well. Create a sense of focus: through the exhibit layout, they were able to create a sense of containment for visitors to work and focus. My only hope would be that they dedicate more of the space to the visitor made- it felt a bit empty, even though there was activity happening while I was there. An activity for most ages: they had coloring books and the "rubbings" activity and the threshold was low enough for just about anyone who can wield a crayon. They also had multiple heights for working, so that little ones and adults could participate with comfort. Location, location, location: one of the fun things about discovering this little space was that it wasn't accessed by going to a special place in the museum. Rather, it was right smack in the middle of the related exhibit. So the points of inspiration were immediate and adjacent. Elegant visitor contribution display solution: they also had an elegant display mechanism that was also easy to maintain (no post-its on the walls) but also created a warm and colorful aggregate art piece on its own. A "real" artifact to touch: while the rubbings exercise was fun, it was especially great in the context of an art museum ("don't touch!") to have an actual object to handle. Especially if you're asking folks to examine it and learn more about it, it's nice to have something real to handle. I bet there are plenty of others you all have seen out there. Are there some in particular that do this very well? Is there a "learning lounge" type of experiences in a museum you've had that was particularly memorable? I'd like to know- they are great tools for helping the visitor "dig deeper" on their own time, and at their own speed.