Emotions and learning in museums: An overview of NEMO report
The Learning Museum Working Group (LEM WG), which is a part of the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO), dedicated their research in 2020 to emotions and learning. As a result of this work, the report on “Emotions and Learning in Museums” was published this year. The report brings together researchers and practitioners working on emotions in museums and presents their ideas on the topic.
At Museums as Therapy, we relate to these ideas in general and to the following statement by Sani in particular: “awareness of the role emotions play in museum visiting and learning leads to innovation and experimentation in museums, encouraging them to design environments and educational activities that fully engage visitors with all their senses… this approach means moving away from the idea that museums should convey facts and figures in the first place… By focusing on emotions, they [museums] have the potential to confirm themselves as restorative environments and to reiterate the healing power of beauty and culture.”
In the chapter “Emotions inside/out museums”, Paolo Mazzanti discusses an initiative called MuseiEmotivi. “We designed MuseiEmotivi, an interactive training workshop series for museum professionals from museums and cultural heritage institutions… interested in the trend of emotions in museums. The workshops include training sessions with talks by recognised scientists and experts from different disciplines, addressing the relationship between emotions and museums, and solutions for user engagement.”
In the chapter “The place of emotions in museums: the scenographer’s point of view”, Lorenzo Greppi attempts to answer three core questions about emotions in museums: Why take emotions into account? What is the place of emotions? What attitudes, what tools should I use to stage emotions? Describing a way of visiting a museum, Greppi, among other aspects, focuses on “a succession of three moments in time, which must integrate and support each other in the best way… The first is the time of amazement, emotional intelligence, disorientation and decontextualisation — in practice, the time of falling in love… The second is the time of analysis, the time of love… The third is the time of knowledge, of intimacy, of complicity, the time of love ecstasy.”
John H. Falk in the chapter “The role of emotions in museum-going” also poses a number of fundamental questions: “What motivates people to visit museums? What determines when and why museum visitors perceive that they have peak experiences? What do people remember about their museum experience weeks and months after a visit, and why?” He sees the museum experience as “cyclical, with emotions playing a critical role at EVERY stage.”
In the chapter “Planning for emotions in museums”, Tom Owen presents the visitor hierarchy of needs and argues that “by addressing basic needs, museums can help visitors enjoy deeper engagement.” He also emphasizes the importance of the arrival and departure experiences: “Arguably the part of the museum experience that most warrants emotional planning is the arrival experience… For most museums, visitors exit where they came in, so the arrival and departure experiences must work together.”
Summary and next steps
The report brings together various points of view on emotions in museums and contains a large number of references to relevant resources. All authors agree univocally that emotions play an important (if not the most important) part in a museum experience and emphasize the need of enhancing existing museum infrastructures with tools supporting such emotional experience.
It is worth noting, however, that no concrete methodologies to enhance museum infrastructures are discussed in the report and, more importantly, no such methodologies seem to exist at the moment. At Museums as Therapy, we aim at developing and promoting methodologies that facilitate emotional experience in art museums. These methodologies should be targeted at both museums and museum visitors.