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Engaging Museum Visitors With “Nature. And Us?” At Stapferhaus

“Nature. And us?” exhibition at the Stapferhaus / Copyright Stapferhaus/Anita Affentranger

As a member of the curation team at Stapferhaus in Lenzburg, Lisa Gnirss has been heavily involved in her museum’s efforts to engage visitors in the debate surrounding climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

In a recent interview with MuseumNext, she shared the details of her museum’s approach and the impact it has had on visitors to date.

At the core of Stapferhaus’s “Nature. And us?” exhibition is a belief that moving forward with the climate agenda will not be achieved through simply repeating what visitors already know. More specifically, the museum in Lenzburg isn’t simply sharing the headlines that nature is threatened; that the planet is in crisis; and that we all have a responsibility to act more sustainably. The critical state of the earth is, of course, included in the exhibition – but it serves not only as a way of imparting knowledge but rather as a starting point for discussing alternative ways of living on this planet.

Furthermore, Lisa Gnirss, member of the curational team at the museum which won European Museum of the Year in 2020, suggests that Stapferhaus has worked to create an exhibition that will encourage more thought about our relationship with nature – both on a personal and on a societal level. The team at Stapferhaus believe that helping visitors to become more aware of their own perspective, values, ambivalences and barriers when looking on and interacting with all that is called “nature”, is a more effective way to initiate change and move the conversation forward.

“Nature. And us?” exhibition at the Stapferhaus / Copyright Stapferhaus/Anita Affentranger

In “Nature. And us?” the team at Stapferhaus have created a hybrid sequence that invites visitors to answer 20 questions during their visit: the questions are based around their views of and relationship to nature. In the final part of the exhibition, visitors are welcomed into an interactive multimedia debate discussing the future of the planet.

Within this multimedia debate visitors are asked to vote on different proposals on how humanity should move forward, different measures that can be taken, on the question of who carries most responsibility for changing the status quo and so on. They can also see live how the other visitors in the room vote on these topics and – depending on the vote of the majority -, a slightly different version of the film is shown.Then everyone receives a personal evaluation of their answers in the form of a spider diagram. Finally, visitors are invited to compare their own answers with those of a representative sample of the Swiss population through an online portal.

“Nature. And us?” exhibition at the Stapferhaus / Copyright Stapferhaus/Anita Affentranger

Lisa says, “This approach encourages our visitors to reflect on their point of views, challenge or strengthen their beliefs and discuss their position with others. It invites everyone to take part in the debate on how we should move into a more sustainable future.

“We think that it is mostly when people begin to get involved on a personal level that they feel the state of nature really means something to them. In the media it’s often the same things being preached over and over again, but this doesn’t help to realise and value the relationships that everyone of us has to the environment.

“Through the playfulness and interactivity of our exhibition and the many different formats, medias and layers, visitors are encouraged to discuss and decide on the most pressing questions in different ways. It’s really important to us that we are not delivering the one and only answer but that we give our visitors the chance to express their opinion.”

“Nature. And us?” exhibition at the Stapferhaus / Copyright Stapferhaus/Anita Affentranger

Now four months into the exhibition, Lisa says that the response from visitors so far has been fascinating to see. She comments, “One of the things we have found is that people seem a little tired of being bombarded by the data surrounding climate change. Because the challenge is so huge, people often choose to simply switch off and stop listening to the news.

“Nature. And us?” exhibition at the Stapferhaus / Copyright Stapferhaus/Anita Affentranger

“I think that sentiment reaffirms the purpose of “Nature. And us?”. By taking a step back and inviting people to think of their own relationship with nature, they can the value of nature for them and create a resonance between themselves and their non-human surrounding. Thus, they are more motivated to question their behaviour. Through the exhibition, many people become more conscious about their values and actions, and thus are more likely and inspired to initiate change.”

“Nature. And us?” exhibition at the Stapferhaus / Copyright Stapferhaus/Anita Affentranger

And what about Stapferhaus itself. How has the learning process initiated by this exhibition changed the museum’s own values and informed its next steps? Lisa says, “Every exhibition we do undoubtedly leaves its mark on us. In the two years that we have been tackling this topic as a museum team, we’ve been inspired by so many of the people we’ve worked with and consulted with as part of this process. Researching the state of the human–nature relationship has often shaken us, made us humble, but also hopeful.

“And then one direct consequence of what we’ve learned is that we are now putting in place even more proactive steps to reduce our own carbon footprint and reduce our waste. Because we need to not just think of our relationship with nature in abstract terms but also in practical ways, too.”

The Green Museums Summit will be held from 26th – 27th February 2024, and will feature inspiring ideas and case studies from those championing sustainability in museums and galleries. Click here to book your tickets now, to make sure you don’t miss out.

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