How an institution – whether it’s a museum, gallery or public space – communicates with visitors is integral to a their experience. So being inclusive, in all its different forms, seems like a no-brainer. But even so, many of these spaces, especially those with a national or global reach, have been slow to adapt to changing cultural mores.
“There is a difference between passive and active welcoming. Simply not turning people away is not inclusion. In order to genuinely include all would-be visitors, they need to be actively welcomed,” explains Margaret Middleton, a designer and consultant who advocates for inclusive museum practices in their work.
“Historically, western museums have been places for the white and wealthy elite. As museum practice has become more education-based and visitor-focused, there has been a shift in values around being accessible, inclusive, and welcoming. Traditional museums for adults trail behind the children’s museum field in this regard because children’s museums have always put the visitor first – the visitor is right there in the name of the museum.”
One area in which Middleton feels this is particularly lacking is in the signage and icons used in cultural institutions, and it’s one that could be easy to resolve.