When I went to the New England Museum Conference in 2011, I attended a presentation about making exhibitions “multisensory”. The presentation defined multisensory as a way of processing information through more than one of our senses. The presenters mentioned that combining senses gives a person a more powerful, overall experience. During the session, we explored different ways on how museums can make the information in their exhibitions appeal to other senses besides just “sight”.
Here are some ways we make our exhibits multisensory here at CHS:
Smell: In our Try It! exhibition, we put scented cubes into stainless steel shakers so visitors can sniff smells. We encourage visitors to assemble a cast of smells that would remind them of a favorite Connecticut memory. It’s a popular interactive, even if the scents range from sandy beach to cow manure.
Touch: We have multiple interactives that require touching. One of my favorites in the galleries requires visitors to sit in and compare an unfinished Windsor chair seat to a carved, finished one. The difference in comfort is a lot more drastic than it looks.
Sound: As visitors walk through the “Contact & Clash 1635-1687” section in our Making Connecticut exhibit they can hear oral histories done by voice actors. The oral histories are interspersed with bird sounds that immerse the visitor as they walk through the woods-themed environment.
Taste: Though not technically in our gallery space, CHS did hold a community cookoff based from our exhibition, Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart. The cookoff featured dishes that were take from recipes displayed in the exhibition. Since it’s so difficult to provide the taste sense in exhibitions, I think this counts as a pretty good substitute.
Some senses are a challenge to represent. But when they are successful and grouped together they can provide a fun and immersive way to heighten the overall learning experience.
Mike Messina is the Interpretive Projects Associate at the Connecticut Historical Society.