Scenography in museum design: an examination of its current use, and its impact on visitors’ value of experience

Gadsby, Jenniefer (2014) Scenography in museum design: an examination of its current use, and its impact on visitors’ value of experience. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.


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This research examines the use of scenography in museum design and investigates how scenography can impact on visitors’ value of experience. This research contributes to existing knowledge on visitors’ experiences, museum design and the relationship between them, and aims to inspire new thinking on the potential of scenography to enhance visitors’ value of experiences. With ever increasing and improving competition for the public’s free time museums are more widely recognised as part of the leisure industry. To remain culturally relevant and financially sustainable museums have had to develop a more profound understanding of not only who their audiences are, but what users require from their experiences, and how they can offer this. Taking influence from the service industry, this research focuses on the visitor as investor and uses the concept of ‘value of experience’ to examine what people seek when visiting museums.

The study began by reviewing the use of scenography in theatrical performance and considering if this aligns with the role of museums. I analyse existing examples of scenography in museum design and reflect on personal experience to consider the impact of these on visitors. Summarising literature into visitors’ experiences, I recognise six types of value that are most commonly sought or recognised by museum visitors. These six values are presented in the ‘visitors’ value of museum experience groupings’, an original system developed for the purpose of this research. The visitors’ value of museum experience groupings were tested then used as a framework to review the impact of scenography in museum design. Triangulating data collected from field visits to museum, interviews with museum staff, and consultations with museum visitors I use the value groupings as a guide to investigate the impact of scenography in museum design on their visitors’ value of experience.

The research demonstrates that there is an ever increasing use of scenographic components in museum designs and reviews the ways in which these can be applied to support some of the core aims and objectives of museums. Though the impact of scenography can be mutually beneficial for visitor and museum, there are fundamental differences in museums and theatres which mean some principles of scenography cannot be easily transferred to museum spaces. The museum frame is unlike the theatrical frame. Theatres enjoy an artistic licence with which they can choose to be illusionary, exaggerated and deceptive. The theatrical frame sets expectations and behaviours which encourages audiences to suspend their disbelief and engage in personal meaning making. Meanwhile, museums are trusted as places of accuracy, perceived as places of unique learning, and celebrated for being the carers of authentic collections. Considering these factors, the ability or willingness of museum visitors to overlook limitations and read design on a symbolic level is unclear. Though scenography may be able to support museums in offering a range of values, the most unique and fundamental characteristics of museums must be respected and celebrated if they wish to maintain a competitive edge within today’s competitive leisure industry.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: CAH17 - business and management > CAH17-01 - business and management > CAH17-01-06 - tourism, transport and travel
CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-05 - others in creative arts and design
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts > Birmingham School of Art
Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Richard Birley
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2017 14:41
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 17:20

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