Museum of the Year interview: Will Gompertz

Will Gompertz, one of the judges for the prize, talks about what he is looking for in this year’s applicants.

What do you like most about museums?

They are fantastic repositories of the human imagination. They are a place where we can think, be inspired and reconnect.

As one of the judges for Museum of the Year, what are you looking for in museum and galleries?

I am looking for an appetite to connect with the broad community in a way that recognises that different people have different needs. It is a difficult thing to achieve because by getting it right for one group, you can blow it for another. It is a really ultra-thin line to tread, but those who do it successfully are magnificent.

Which museum would provide a good example?

The British Museum is absolutely brilliant at catering for all audiences. It has a very clear and crisp offer with a wide appeal which is delivered in multiple ways.

For instance, there is a central information hub which you can visit to find out everything you need before going to the galleries. Alternatively, you don’t have to use it at all. When you go into the galleries, the objects are left to speak for themselves. Effectively, the information that serves a myriad of audiences is taken out of the galleries and kept in the information hub. As a result, the museum serves all audiences from the elite academic to the school group. Everything is considered with the audience in mind.

The British Museum is a big institution. Do you think this can be successfully offered by smaller museums?

Yes. It’s not necessarily an expensive solution – it’s just clever. Like the old architectural expression goes; if you’ve got a problem which you can’t do anything about, make it a feature. So if you don’t have a lot money, it’s OK – people can understand that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be innovative and clever.

What piece of advice would you give to museums and galleries?

Be intelligent and clear-sighted. Know what your audiences want; why they should be interested in what you have to offer and how they might want to navigate your collection. Then present information in such a way that appeals to all and deters none.

Do you have a small museum in mind that presents itself with clarity?

Charleston, the Bloomsbury group’s house, is a good example of a small museum presenting itself with clarity and with due concern for the audience. Its visitor services are excellent. The explanations which are provided are very good and, as it’s a small place, the museum limits the number of people inside. The experience is completely immersive.

Applications for Museum of the Year 2016 are open until Wednesday 10 February. To apply, please complete the application form.

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