Visitor Educator program at Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art | Sunday Observer

Visitor Educator program at Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

27 November, 2022
“How important is the visitor experience to a museum of modern and contemporary art? Does it begin when someone steps foot inside its physical space, or over social media? What motivates people to visit a museum? Do all visitors experience a museum in the same way? These are some of the questions we ask ourselves as we look at how to create the best possible museum experience for our visitors,” said Chief Curator, Sharmini Pereira.

To achieve its vision of establishing a more publicly accessible museum in Sri Lanka, the Museum and Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka (MMCA Sri Lanka) needs to build capacity of museum sector personnel, preparing them to not only meet professional standards set by the museum industry internationally but also equipping them with the knowledge required for meeting challenges that are relevant to the Sri Lankan context.

The museum launched the second phase of its Visitor Educator (VE) program in early 2022. Conceived and designed on docent programs that are hallmarks of professional museum operations and pedagogical approaches worldwide, the VE position and training program is the first of its kind in Sri Lanka.

In 2022, the role of Curator Learning and Training was created, underlining the commitment of the museum to educational work over exhibition making. As the first curator to take on this role, Sanuja Goonetilleke, has been involved in setting up and designing the VE program.

Sanuja said, “VE training covers multiple disciplines including research, collections safety, customer service, pedagogical methods for working with adult and child learners, data collection, making sense of visual art terminology, event management, and public speaking. VEs can transfer the skills they gain through their experience at the MMCA Sri Lanka to a variety of careers within, but also beyond, the world of professional museums in Sri Lanka and internationally. This is what makes it such an attractive role.”

The MMCA Sri Lanka’s VEs play a pivotal role as the first points of contact between visitors and the museum. Often, school visits to museums are passive, non-interactive experiences with little to no contact with staff who work in the museum.

By contrast, the MMCA Sri Lanka takes a different approach by focusing on the quality of the visitor experience from the time they might engage with the museum online to their experience in the galleries and as they leave. MMCA Sri Lanka’s Gallery Manager Thariq Thahireen said, “Visiting the museum in person, audiences encounter VEs, who are trained to greet them at the front desk and interact with them inside the galleries. They can be identified by their ‘Visitor Educator,’ ‘Ask Me,’ and ‘Free Tour Guide’ badges they wear in Sinhala, Tamil, and English.

Although approaching a VE might not be every visitor’s preferred way of experiencing an exhibition, the VEs are present in the galleries to engage with those who have questions, or want to talk about artworks on display and do a tour of a gallery or the entire exhibition”.

VEs enable visitors to learn about and engage with the artworks on view, provide context, and introduce close-looking techniques through conversations, tours, and educational activities for children. VEs also support the care of the exhibits in the exhibition, observe health and safety protocols, and assist with the setup of its weekly public programs. Since the launch of the program in December 2019, the museum has worked with over 40 VEs.