Monday, July 07, 2008

Exhibitions about pets

This question from Susan Sedgwick, Historic Houses Trust: Hi Lynda, thank for taking the time to talk with me today. As I mentioned, the Historic Houses Trust is developing an exhibition Tails of the city: Sydney's passion for pets on the history of Sydneysiders and their pets to be shown at the Museum of Sydney from 13 December 2008 until 22 March 2009. Consequently I would be very interested to view any 'Dogs' audience research material that you can share and which might be relevant.

Hi Susan – we did some forward planning research several years ago now for a potential exhibition called It's a dog's life. We found that this topic really polarised audiences – you're either a dog person or you're not. The topic had very strong appeal for dog lovers and hopeful dog owners; then there are those who actively don't like dogs and there are others who are ambivalent. Parents also feared that an exhibition like this would fuel their childrens' interest, increasing pressure to get a dog when they don't understand the big commitment to owning one. Those that were interested had many questions and topic suggestions:

  • What do dogs see?
  • What can they hear?
  • How does their sense of smell work?
  • Explain their strange habits
  • Explore their intelligence and psychology – how do their 'minds' work?
  • Life from a dog's point of view
  • See what they're capable of (working dogs, tricks, behaviour)

Ultimately, for the dog lovers they wanted to explore the human-dog relationship. They expected the overall mood of the exhibition to be light-hearted and humorous as dogs are quite amusing. However, when compared with the other topics we tested (such as ants, deep ocean, bog people) they felt it could give them nothing new, they are very familiar so what could the exhibition bring that was new? Finally, they thought the best thing about dogs is live dogs, so what else could make it exciting?

Susan, you have an interesting conundrum and much food for thought – it is a person's ingoing attitudes to pets that will largely determine their reactions to the exhibition. Personally, I dislike pets intensely and couldn't think of a more boring topic for an exhibition – but then I'm not your target audience (sorry all you pet lovers out there...)! By the way, the National Archives of Australia did a travelling exhibition about working animals called It's a Dog's Life! Animals in the Public Service and they may have done some evaluation on that – don't know who to contact there anymore though.

1 comment:

LyndaK said...

Here's Susan's response:

Thanks so much sharing your research. One of the main points that we will take away from it is that our marketing team need to reach and attract animal lovers as these are the key group that will come, we can't expect to attract non-pet lovers or change people's existing attitudes to animals. We also need to communicate to visitors that will learn something new, about the history of Sydneysiders and their pets, that they don't know already.

In regard to parent's fear about fuelling their childrens' interest in a pet versus the commitment of owning one we are aiming to educate about responsible and appropriate pet ownership. We are also definitely exploring the human-pet relationship in our exhibition and are aiming for a light-hearted and humorous feel.

I will send you an invitation to our opening to say thank you. It would also be interesting to hear feedback from you about the show, as a non-pet person!


Woohoo - thnx Susan, I'll be there coz I love openings. I'll do a review for the ExhibitFiles website too.