A huge white moon is reflected on the ground, disturbed by what looks like circles in the water. Around, furtive movements punctuate the darkness, in a noise of crumpled leaves. A smell of damp earth but also of fawn gradually fills the space. Suddenly, the roar of a leopard pierces the night … In a few seconds, we are transported to the African savannah, at the edge of a water point in the Rift Valley (Kenya), where baboons, mongooses and antelopes come to visit. ‘water after dark.
Astonishing, this scene is one of the highlights of “The Sensory Odyssey”, the new exhibition from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (MNHN). Designed to bring the public closer to nature, this “Immersive experience” required five years of preparation for scientists at the museum and at the Sensory Odyssey studio, which shot high-definition images across the planet and reconstructed around 20 scents for the exhibition. But the result is striking: from one room to another, the visitor has the impression of dancing with sperm whales, browsing with a bee or even flying with pink flamingos.
Innovate, innovate, innovate… Today, it has become an obsession for those in charge of museums and monuments: how to succeed in attracting new audiences, while the average age of visitors continues to increase and social categories the less favored are turning away from places of heritage. “A museum has a mission to conserve works. But today he must speak to young people, be more welcoming, more collaborative. The public must be at the heart of our concerns ”, recognizes Vincent Campredon, director of the National Maritime Museum in Paris.
In 2018, 44% of French people said they had visited a museum, monument or exhibition, barely better than in 1973 (41%)
According to the study on the cultural practices of the French, conducted every ten years by the Ministry of Culture and the latest version of which was published in 2020, attendance at heritage sites has increased very little over the past forty years. In 2018, 44% of French people said they had visited a museum, monument or exhibition, barely better than in 1973 (41%).
More worryingly, the average age of visitors is increasing study after study. Between 1973 and 2018, the percentage of 15-28 year olds attending heritage sites increased from 51% to 47%, while that of 53-64 year olds increased from 35% to 47%. Worse, the gap has widened between social categories: in 2018, only 32% of workers and employees went to a museum or a monument, against 44% in 1973. At the same time, the attendance of executives is increased from 69% to 80%.
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Immersive experience, talking objects… Museums innovate to attract new audiences