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Museums - high added-value venues for organising an event by Fabian Vanhouche

30 October 2018
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A museum is a fantastic setting for organising an event. It is both a high added-value venue and a unique source of inspiration for stagecrafting.

Event organisers like us love running a professional eye over a museum, to grasp its potential for staging an event, which can be as extraordinary as it is demanding. Indeed, once the technical and logistical constraints have been overcome, these magical venues prove to be major assets. But this must be done meaningfully and their identity respected. Once there is an understanding of the venue, it can be a rich source of inspiration for the world of events in the highly contemporary fields of stagecraft, technological innovation and participatory experience.

The choice of museum must be integrated into the event storytelling

As in any event, technology and digitisation have rewritten the rules in museums. The objective here is to improve the experience and try to make it more immersive, interactive, exclusive... Just like events. For example: at the Louvre-Lens, visitors can virtually “undress” mummified animals via a touch screen; at the Beaux-Arts in Brussels, chatbots, virtual robots with artificial intelligence, do the talking and act as omniscient guides; at the MoMA in New York, a virtual exhibition of paintings invisible to the naked eye can only be seen via smartphones and iPads. The “gamification” of trails is also highly popular, as is embodied in the new Mudia in Redu, which houses 300 pictorial works from every period but displayed along a trail that is as exciting as a video game. Not to mention digital mapping, as in the 100% immersive Van Gogh exhibition currently being held at the Brussels Stock Exchange.

In addition to being undeniable sources of inspiration, museums can also be turned into event venues. However, the choice of museum must make sense and be integrated into the overall concept of the event storytelling. The more this is the case, the more of a unique cachet the event will have. A recent example was when VO designed the highly exclusive 150th birthday of private bankers Puilaetco Dewaay at the refurbished Museum for Central Africa. The display trail embodied Puilaetco's motto "Innovation through Tradition"; guests followed a trail from the superbly restored old building to its new contemporary part - two inseparable and complementary aspects, just like tradition and innovation.

The museum must not overwhelm the event

These venues are unique in terms of architecture and aesthetics and our presence must be fitting. There is no question of disrupting these very rich, reflective visual settings. The event must be free-standing and quick to (dis-)assemble. Besides the logistics, there is still the issue of the relationship of trust between the event and the museum accommodating it. This finely-balanced formula must emphasise the venue, its strengths, its spirit and its beauty without transforming it or being overwhelmed by it. If the gamble is successful, the museum will often pay back generously.

The world of museums is also highly focused on its pivotal mainstay - the visitors themselves, their behaviour, expectations and emotions, in order to fine-tune the ideal trail around the museum to suggest to them. This is another point museums have in common with the world of events. This is something the cutting-edge Museumlabs are working on, for example the one in Mons, which is deeply involved in neuroscientific research into design thinking and the behaviour of the eye, the visitor's eye movements within a museum and in front of the works. It is a mine of information and experience, being created in tandem with the visitor. And why not with a guest at an event? This is how to rewrite the rules and offer a truly unique experience to participants.