The MediaMerge Museum Approach: The Art of Making Meaningful Connections

Posted on Sep 6, 2021 5:00:00 PM

By Ken McKibben, President at MediaMerge

What’s the first museum visit you can remember? Was it looking up at rotating models in a planetarium and realizing the unending vastness of space? Was it standing under the giant bones of a T-Rex dug up in some exotic, faraway place?


My first memory of a museum was leaning against a rail and looking down into a big hole in the ground. After weeks of lessons about the Native American tribes of Alabama, our elementary school took a field trip to the Moundville Archeological Park. Up to that point, I wasn’t particularly engaged in the subject. However, when I realized that that dig site I was gazing down into was full of human remains, things got real. History suddenly became more than a bunch of distant stories. The excavated mounds contained a rich record of the lives of actual people that had lived, and died, almost a thousand years ago. I suddenly found myself very interested in these “Mound people”. I was connected to them. My memories of that visit remain quite vivid to this day, even though the facts and dates presented there faded long ago.

Maybe you don't remember the specifics of your early museum visits, but what you do remember is the experience –– that sense of awe, that sense of your place in history and the universe, just like I did all those years ago at Moundville. That’s what MediaMerge believes a museum should do: create an emotional connection that draws guests into a lifelong desire to learn more.

On every museum project, we work to craft the most emotionally powerful message possible, to ensure that every visitor walks away with a memory that lasts a lifetime.

Creative Opportunities Abound with Museums

Integrating sound, video, and lighting into church spaces has always been our wheelhouse. It’s how we started, and those projects will always be our special mission. Because churches are usually designed for similar presentation purposes, their project flow usually follows a pretty similar trajectory.

Museums, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Each exhibit is unique by its very nature. The approach for a space exhibit is very different from one that depicts a historic event like the Boston Tea Party. One might include holographic projection and video walls, while the other calls for physical scenic elements recreating a city street scene from 200 years ago. Museum projects shift our creativity into overdrive. The possibilities are endless, and the process is exhilarating.

The outside-the-box approach also means that museums present a more open-ended set of challenges. Whether it’s the content, the exhibit layout, or the scenic approach, our team can’t really get to work until we develop the story that will deliver the most powerful emotional connection to the subject matter. 

Once that story is fully conceptualized, our experience with audio, video, and lighting technologies in presentation spaces pays huge dividends through the methods we use to deliver an engaging experience to guests.

Our approach to design

The first step for every museum project is recognizing that we are not subject matter experts. Our museum clients are. So what do we do? We learn.

Our initial meetings involve Discovery sessions, designed to explore the educational points and major takeaways for museum guests. We not only learn the facts that our client wants included in their exhibit, but we also learn what the exhibit is really about - what’s the underlying human story. To be effective in this role, we must be as familiar with the subject matter as we can be.

Will we be as familiar as the museum’s curator or historian? Definitely not, but we get as close as we can to make sure we understand the subject. (I never dreamed that we would know as much about eighteenth-century tin smithing or the asymmetric rotation of asteroids as our team does!)

After we meet with our museum clients, we usually step away for a bit to brainstorm with our team internally. Museum curators are very knowledgeable in their fields; they know practically everything about the topics related to their exhibits. The familiarity with the content can make it difficult to think outside the box. They can get a sort of tunnel vision about the topic, which can make it challenging to look at the story from a wide range of perspectives. This is where our team can really help.

Once all of the research is done, and the details of the basic story have been ironed out, we get to work on the crux of the exhibit design: How do we create an emotional connection?

Putting it all together

One key way we’ve found to be effective at creating a lasting impact on visitors is through the use of arguments. Rather than presenting just one side of the story, we imagine ways to use content, AVL technology, and scenery to place a visitor in the middle of a conflict, so they get a complete picture of the facts, emotion, and context.

Our work at the Dreams of Freedom museum in Boston presented a debate between an Irish and an Italian immigrant. Some of the exhibit’s draw came from the novelty of it; we used our Living Canvas technology to portray these immigrants, and visitors always love them. Think of it like those talking portraits in the Harry Potter films. We had these two immigrants argue over which one had it the worse on their journey to America. Both shared their reasons, but in the end, they came to find common ground with the understanding that the cultural groups in each historic wave of immigration have faced different challenges.

The success of this approach is that the viewer sees the argument, mulls over all the points in their head, and weighs it for themselves. They are an active participant in the exhibit. Nobody just wants to read a graphic with dates and facts, so we offer a human reason to be interested in why the events occurred and why it matters to them.

It’s not always possible to make that emotional connection through more traditional means, so MediaMerge is always working on new ways to reach people where they are and make a meaningful connection. If our goal is for museum guests to engage in our subject and develop an insatiable curiosity about it, creating an emotional connection is a powerful tool. At MediaMerge we use audio/video content, AVL technology, scenery and the raw power of great stories to achieve that goal and create lifelong learners in the process.

Topics:Interactive ExhibitsInteractive Displayliving portraitsMuseum Exhibit Design


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