When the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro reopened in September we had to make some big changes to our main hall and galleries in order to stay Covid-safe. These included removing hands-on interactive displays, discovery bags and activity tables. We are also no longer able to host gatherings in the main hall, leaving it feeling cold and empty.
So our challenge was to think of new and safe ways to connect people and explain the Covid rules about museum visits without putting people off at the front door. Our aims were to bring fun into the museum but also to be a safe place for recovery and recuperation.
Giants feature large in the folklore and history of Cornwall, and our portrait of Anthony Payne – who stood at 2m 23cm high – was an obvious choice for our social distancing message.
A 2m floor sign at the entrance to the museum reads: “Remember to keep two giant steps apart”. And the portrait is displayed with interactives for the visitor to compare their height and shoe size with Payne. This also forms part of a social media campaign that we’re using to generate more dialogue and interaction with audiences.
Elsewhere, we decided to use the space in our main hall to encourage a sense of fun and playfulness. We created a series of social distancing games that play out across the gallery floor. These include:
- Colourful floor stickers illustrating key chronological moments in Cornish heritage, such as Chun Quoit (3000 BC) and Truro Cathedral (1880), as objects on display. This timeline runs around the perimeter of the main gallery and its stickers double up as social distancing floor markers.
- In a self-contained area we also have contextual dates from British history in spots on the floor. Visitors are encouraged to play a game, jumping from spot to spot.
- A 2m hopscotch that leads visitors on to the next gallery.
We’ve noticed that these floor markers encourage our visitors to pause and look up into the display case. We believe they’ve helped to increase dwell time and deepen engagement with the displays.
As well as encouraging wellbeing through enjoyment and play, we’ve tried to help people understand how they are making a social contribution through their actions, no matter how small.
For example, we’ve introduced a series of mask trails. These offer different levels of engagement, from simple “seek and find” activities to a more thought-provoking display.
The exhibition prompts visitors to reflect on the many reasons for masks in the past, and how they feel about wearing theirs today.
For visitors who want a quieter, more reflective experience, we have set aside a space in an exhibition that shows Cornish seascapes, featuring the scent of the sea and the sound of waves washing against the shore.
My advice to museums looking to do something similar would be to:
- Keep messages succinct but conversational.
- Make it relevant to your museum – it’s another way to spread your message.
- Have fun and people will enjoy it along with you.
Going forward, we want to build on what we’ve created and introduce more games and more opportunities for dialogue with visitors.
We want the museum to be here for the community, we want to show that we’re listening and that museums can change.
Bryony Robins is the creative director of the Royal Cornwall Museum