Centre of New Enlightenment
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is the UK’s most visited museum outside London. It has had five million visitors since reopening in 2006 following a three-year, £35 million restoration. The museum displays over eight thousand objects, which relate to art, science, history and natural history. Entrance is free. Kelvingrove is part of Glasgow Museums and is managed by Culture and Sport Glasgow.
The Centre for New Enlightenment (TCoNE), was created to complement the aims of the restoration project to improve the emotional intellectual, aesthetic and physical access to the collections. The space, the activities and the support, were created with the help of a five million pound donation from the Hunter Foundation 3, the charity of Scottish philanthropist and entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter. It is designed to inspire young people to achieve success in their lives. Participation is free to all.
The objective of The Centre of New Enlightenment (TCoNE) is to improve young visitors’ confidence and help them find the hero inside themselves – to believe that they are not victims of circumstance, but architects of their own futures.
In the year 2000, a World Health Organisation study indicated that levels of personal self-confidence amongst children of school age were low across Europe, particularly in Scotland. The Centre of New Enlightenment is a permanent programme of experiences, events and opportunities that begin with a cinematic and hand-held-computer tour for young people at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The aim is to use the unique museum environment – and in particular its collections, staff and spaces – to help young people develop life skills and to apply them in different circumstances. The outcome is that teenagers use the museum collections to discover their own character strengths, and this improves their self-confidence. These techniques can be applied to a variety of environments, including any museum collection in Europe.
The project was developed between 2004 and late 2007. During the pilot period in spring 2008 over two-thousand visitors were invited, with the Centre of New Enlightenment programme officially going live on Friday 19th Sep 2008. TCoNE is now fully open for school groups and visitors during school holidays. The Victorian ideal of the museum was one which transformed the lives of people, especially young people, through exposure to art, history and science The challenge to Kelvingrove was to create, in an empirically verifiable way, a programme which could realise this ideal, in the few hours of engagement involved in one or two visits together with incentives for subsequent self-led development.
The programme has two parts: firstly the museum experience comprising opening show; the tour and the end show; and secondly the TCoNE Community: further resources comprising mostly digital educational and support materials including an interactive CD ROM, and membership of an exclusive on-line community for all participants. A dedicated team of five museum professionals deliver the operation and development.
The experience starts for the visitors when they arrive in a room that challenges their preconceptions of a museum. This room is white, dust free, high-tech, loud and exciting. The design and scene-setting create excitement, tension and some apprehension. A digital photo of each visitor is taken and their first name is entered into the system. This is important because it sets the tone that this is a personalised experience.
The visitors sit in the cinema, where the facilitator tells them how to use the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), the infrared tags, the webcams, and other pieces of equipment. The visitors see a short film on the cinema screen (with surround sound and LED light presentation), and are then surprised to see their own photos and names projected. The novelty and personalised nature of this impresses visitors, and they enjoy seeing themselves on the big screen.
All set, the visitors leave the comfort of the theatre as, using the PDAs, they embark on a journey through Kelvingrove where they interact with the collections. The PDAs give them clues that become progressively easier to solve with time. The visitors find this part, ‘the treasure hunt’, most enjoyable. The instructions on the PDA give the visitor licence to explore the space on their own terms, this is incredibly empowering, especially for younger visitors usually closely supervised in such spaces. For older participants, the effect is to build a confidence in coming to and using the museum on their own.
The PDAs prompt the visitor to question how they feel about the exhibit in front of them. Each tour is organised around a key value or virtue associated with heroic archetypes. Though these are never revealed to the children explicitly, the challenges guide the users through a number of explorations of these values, using the museum collections as a starting point. Some of the subjects addressed on the tour include family bereavement, empathy with others, judgement in relationships and confronting prejudice. All serious issues but presented in enjoyable and varied experiences.
The challenges involve using data capture such as name, photo, and results of questionnaires. The PDAs then communicate individual results back to the cinema via a wireless system. These highly sophisticated and groundbreaking elements of the technology are invisible in the Museum.
The data captured from visitors’ individual tasks are incorporated into a tailor-made feedback presentation in the cinema. Individual performances, images and digital ‘artefacts’ created by the children on their individual tours are presented to the wider group. This builds confidence, pride and also a strong recognition of the value of their efforts and the importance the museum places in them. The end show reflects on each child’s capacity for a set of heroic attributes and stimulates subsequent development on each of these attributes. The visitor leaves, inspired and with a sense that their endeavours – at least in this context - are being measured, valued and appreciated.
The TCoNE Community
TCoNE seeks to balance traditional museum collections, and modern technology. Part of the motivation for young people taking part is the sense of mystery and risk. The explication of TCoNE and the wider objectives are only made after the participants log-on to the TCoNE website www.tcone.org. Here they will they find their personalised results from their visit. Visitors discover an on-line community and social-networking site that suggests other challenges they might want to explore in their wider lives, and to put them in touch with other organizations, activities and members.
Integrated Circles were responsible for all the installed elements of the experience, from the Theatre audio visual and lighting systems, transponders and trigger mechanisms through the galleries and interfacing signals from participants PDAs to trigger events such as video [projections and lighting or sound effects in displays distributed throughout the galleries.
To bring the project to fruition Integrated Circles worked closely as part of a team with the Client, their designers “NorthernLight”, interactive software specialist “Kiss The Frog” and multimedia museum guides specialist “Guide ID”.
During the pilot phase in spring 2008 catered for approximately two-thousand invited visitors. Visitor studies evaluations were undertaken about what visitors like, understand and enjoy. This has already led to changes such as stories being edited, and operational logistics being altered. It has also shown strengths. Ninety-nine per cent said they would like to repeat the experience, and many visitors were disappointed that they couldn’t take the PDAs home. It was most rewarding that on completion of the tour, eighty-one per cent of visitors said that they felt ‘confident or very confident’.
The Centre of New Enlightenment at Kelvingrove pursues high ambitions. Ambitions that refer to the traditional role of a museum as a catalyst of social development but delivered in a 21st century setting to an audience of contemporary urban youth. Glasgow Museums and the Hunter Foundation have committed to a five-year development and re-display which will be informed by continual evaluation. TCoNE is a tool that encourages, facilitates and expands young people’s relationship with the museum and their own personal development. Plus, it’s really good fun!