The synopsis or concept of this paper is basically to highlight some important ways or methods through which Museum Education Officers can carry along or capture the minds and intense interest of the visiting public into understanding and appreciation of the displayed objects in the museum galleries. It is further aimed at developing or building the potential capacity of Museum Education Officers with the current trends of communicating Museum objects to the public which will in turn serve as a catalyst in the motivation of visitors to continually visit the Museum galleries without getting bored or tired.
For a clear understanding of this subject, it is important to first make some clarifications by way of definition of some key terms or words, amongst these terms are Museum, Museum objects or Exhibits, Museum Public Communication and Museum Education Officers.
MUSEUM: The definition of a museum has evolved in line with development in society. Since its creation in 1946, ICOM – International Council of Museums updates this definition in accordance with the realities of the Global Museum Community. According to the ICOM statues adopted during the 21st General Conference in Vienna, Australia in 2007, “A Museum is a non-profit permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purpose of education, study and enjoyment.
MUSEUM EXHIBITS/OBJECTS: Museum exhibits are objects in the collection of a Museum which illustrates an aspect of Culture or any subject matter and are used as reference materials or as objects of aesthetic or educational importance.
MUSEUM PUBLIC: According to the World Book Dictionary; the public means “of or belonging to the people as a whole”. Public also means “of pertaining to or affecting the people as a whole or the community, state or nation”. In addition it means the people constituting a community state or nation. Since the Museum according to the ICOM definition is “in the service of society and its development” the Museum publics consist of all the people as a whole. The Museum public cut across children, our young people, aged, school, those that visit the Museum and even those that do not visit.
COMMUNICATION: Communication simply put is the process of passing or sending messages or information from one person to another. According to Richard H. Hall (1977) communication is both the art and the science of getting through to people. It is the process by which we convey or relay our ideas, feelings, sentiments, information and opinions to others for a definite purpose. The way the Museum collections are interpreted and presented to the public by Education Officers is communication.
MUSEUM EDUCATION OFFICERS: Museum education can be defined as the “totality of educational activities including amongst others, exhibitions development and educational programs which are undertaken by Museum to effectively communicate with a diverse public using Museum collection; tangible and intangibles as its resources, guide and catalyst”( P.D.A.) program for Museum development in Africa.
Museum education is a specialized field devoted to developing and strengthening of Museums role as institutions. The purpose of Museum education is to enhance visitors’ ability to understand and appreciate Museum collections. Museum education is in-debt transfer of important cultural information using Museum exhibits for the purpose of imparting knowledge to members of the public. It is an instrument used in facilitating integration of young and old as well as creating awareness in individuals of their potential as creative and critical human beings.
Furthermore, Emmanuel Arinze, one of the pioneers of Museum education expressed his view that museum education is an intellectual and practical translation of abstract framework of Museum activities into intellectual understandable positive realities through non-formal and non-rigid methods. This means that any types and shapes of humans can be educated in the Museum ranging from small children, youth, adults, the young and the Old, the disable/handicapped, the educated and non-educated people in all work of life.
Based on the above definitions, the Museum education officers are simply the Museum professionals responsible for communicating to the diverse public or community, heritage resources under the custody of the Museum through various educational enlightenment programmes.
Thus, the unit is a specialized unit consisting of officers having the responsibility of imparting cultural information to members of the purposes of studying knowledge and enjoyment of the unit through the education officers makes available to schools, colleges, groups and individuals educational potential and facilities in the Museum not only in the aesthetics appreciation but also in the intellectual understanding of the circumstances and periods from which the periods which the pieces came and messages they carry.
From the above analysis, it is obvious that the Museum Education Officer serves as a bridge between the Museum and the public. It is their sole duty to ensure that visitors to the Museum galleries get excited with the cultural displays and keep on coming without getting bored or tired of visiting the museum galleries.
A Museum Education Officer can effectively communicate Museum objects to the public through various means or method; some of these methods include the following;
- GUIDED TOURS: Guided tour is a system of communicating the Museum objects to the public by way of conducting school groups of visiting publics round the gallery by translating and interpreting the objects into reality so that they can really understand the messages of each of the objects on display are carrying instead of me look and see. The oral explanations or information offered by the education officers to the visitors will expose them to see the objects as collection or cultural and historical values than mere object of aesthetic value.
- DIAGRAMS, PHOTOGRAPHS, LABELS OR CAPTIONS: Another method an education officer can effectively communicate Museum objects to the public is through the use of diagrams, photographs, labels or caption. These are important instructional materials which an Education Officer cannot avoid in the dispensation of his educational interpretation of the Museum objects to the visiting public, the education officer uses the instructional materials, eg photographs as supportive aids for the simulation of audience, and by reading the captions or labels vis-a-vis was photographs or pictures by the visiting publics or tourists they are better informed with adequate knowledge of the objects on display. Diagrams and captions allow visitors to have personal interaction with objects through reading, however with an education officer on ground with his or her professional techniques or tactics of introducing the objects before the audience they catch a clearer understanding of the objects information or messages stated on the captions or labels.
- FILMS/AUDIO VISUAL SHOWS: The Museum Education Officer can also communicate Museum exhibits to the public through the use of films or audio-visual shows. Audio visuals are instructional materials containing both sound and sight i.e. it has the ability of presenting information to audience by hearing and seeing simultaneously. Example of audio-visual materials are films, slide, projector, video, tape, TV, radio, cassette players, computers etc; through these education materials information in motion pictures or photograph or objects, events, dances, stories etc. can be presented to the eyes by being thrown onto a screen with the aid of a projector.
The Museum Education Officers in the same vein can use audio-visuals to reach the public through adequate compilations of cultural and historical films from libraries and archives and show them to the public. Also video tapes containing narrations and process of making artifacts of contemporary arts such as basketry, broom making, bronze casting, pottery making etc. can be put together and shown on television or through the slide projectors to the public for a better understanding of the Museum objects. The Education Officers by their professional style can intermittently pause while the film is going on and give short or brief explanations of what is on screen display. These methods have the advantage of arousing and stimulating the intense interest of the viewing public or audience and further motivate them to come to the Museum galleries to see more in other to satisfy their curiosity.
- DANCE, DRAMA AND SINGING: Another important strategy of motivating the interest of the Museum publics to the galleries by Museum Education Officers is through dances, dramas and singing. Through this method, Education Officer uses his or her innovative ability to put some of the object into choruses or songs, dramatize them on how they are been used and even make the audience to dance or shake their body to the rhythm of the songs, for instance, the Museum bay with collection of musical instruments such as drums, flute, metal gongs etc. can be best or easily be communicated by demonstrating how they are used, accompanied with fine intonation of songs and dances. By demonstrating this object before them, it has the ability of stirring up or arousing their interest as well as stimulating them into looking forward for more information which will consequently make them to visit the Museum galleries the more.
- USE OF FLYERS AND LEAFLETS: Flyers and leaflets are also effective means of communicating Museum objects to visitors as well as to the intending visitors. Flyers are leaflets that can be compiled by the Education unit containing elaborate information about a Museum such as brief History of the Museum, type, concept of the Museum, collections and their importance, the various departments and the educational services offered by the Education unit of the Museum etc. When these leaflets and flyers are evenly distributed to the public including schools, young and old, churches, mosque, hospital, prison etc. it can go a long way of creating awareness on the readers or public about the Museum collections and their activities. These information can stir up or motivate them to develop the interest of not only knowing the Museum of flyers and leaflets but also make them to personally take a trip to the Museum to see the things for themselves and for further enquiries.
In conclusion, it is pertinent to see that Museum collections and exhibits to a large extent has much to communicate to the public, but they remained dead and uninteresting except they are made to speak to human beings. The object also are themselves dumb but the Museum Education Officers give them life and meaning by interpreting or translating them into reality so that when put together; teach our rich cultural heritage. The communication of interest of information, values and ideas concerning Museum collection and exhibits in the gallery is a very vital role of the Museum Education Officers to successfully perform their professional duty as communicators between the Museum and the public, the above-mentioned method of communicating objects must be adopted and used appropriately.
A paper presented by Mrs. Nkeiruka Emeh, Chief Museum Education Officer, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Benin City.