C. Recommendations to Improve the Substantive Orientation of Visitors to the Museum
The recommendations above would open the Museum's vertical core, use several distinctive and highly visible icons to help orient visitors, improve lighting, provide access to recognizable external vistas, and reduce clutter. All this will help reduce visitors' sense of being lost physically. But the Commission also seeks to assure that visitors are not lost substantively.
Descriptive pamphlets, thematic maps, audio tapes, signs, and information booths all have obvious and important roles to play in helping orient visitors substantively. But at NMAH, more is required. Many parents and teachers who bring children and students to the Museum would welcome a serious -- and engaging -- substantive introduction to the full sweep of American history. At a minimum, many seek some sort of chronological orientation. But NMAH is not organized chronologically; and even if it were, it is too large for most people to walk through in a single visit. What is required is a substantive Introductory Exhibit. Accordingly, the Commission strongly recommends as follows.
RECOMMENDATION (10) re: CHARACTER OF INTRODUCTORY EXHIBIT
FOR BOTH EDUCATIONAL AND PRACTICAL REASONS, NMAH SHOULD DEVELOP AN INTRODUCTORY EXHIBIT THAT IS READILY ACCESSIBLE TO ALL VISITORS AS THEY ENTER THE MUSEUM, AND THAT HAS THE FOLLOWING BASIC CHARACTERISTICS:
Note: This concept of an Introductory Exhibit -- and a sense of its importance in addressing NMAH's problems -- emerged at the Commission's first meeting. It was greeted positively by NMAH staff, which then developed a series of papers describing elements of a proposal for such an exhibit. It was obvious, of course, that developing an appropriate and effective Introductory Exhibit would be costly -- and that NMAH had no funds committed for the purpose. It was also obvious that the exhibit would require precious floor space to which other funded commitments might make some claim. Nonetheless, the Commission took the view that the value and power of the proposed Introductory Exhibit was so compelling that the exhibit should be capable of attracting the interest of private donors.
Sharing the Commission's enthusiasm, NMAH explored the proposal with a principal benefactor of the Museum, who generously agreed with NMAH on the following: The best way to assure that the Introductory Exhibit is developed is for it to be funded with funds previously committed for another exhibit of about the same size (an exhibit which, in its original concept, was to have been focused principally on a set of American heroes). The Commission strongly endorses this conclusion. For the current version of NMAH's concept of an Introductory Exhibit -- largely consistent with the Commission's recommendation -- please see Appendix G.