In late October, 2009, the Museum of Photographic Arts in lovely Balboa Park, San Diego graciously hosted a workshop on “Getting Comfortable with Visitor Comfort” as part of the 2009 annual conference of the Western Museums Association. Facilitating the workshop along with Beth and myself were Paul Gabriel, a specialist in learning differences based in San Francisco; Stephanie Weaver, visitor experience consultant extraordinaire and principal of Experienceology; and MOPA Deputy Director Vivian Kung Haga.
Workshop participants spent an intense half-day delving deeply into the question of what constitutes visitor comfort and access. Their explorations on the museum floor and their reactions were videotaped for later use and analysis, while the museum received an in-depth assessment and set of recommendations.
Participants were unanimous in their praise of the MOPA galleries, which are well lit, gracefully proportioned, and simply feel good to be in.
The museum, in the person of Vivian, proved itself delightfully open to constructive criticism — for instance of one problematic aspect of the text for a traveling show:
It might not be very clear from my photo, but the text in Spanish — on the right — is in a fainter typeface than the English on the left. Perhaps helpful for immediately distinguishing one language from the other, but as several participants pointed out, what might this say, unintentionally, about the status of Spanish in relation to English?
Vivian’s plans include modifying a number of visual elements for greater accessibility and comfort, such as this grey-on-purple text:
The workshop was a great opportunity to not only talk and think about visitor comfort and access in the abstract, but to put thoughts into action in an actual museum.
Thanks again to Vivian and her staff for opening up their institution to us in so many ways.