Sunday, February 1, 2009

All About Evil Front-end Evaluation

As part of the planning for the All About Evil exhibition we conducted an extensive front-end evaluation with three key audience segments (boys aged 10 and 15; girls aged 12-13; parents and young adults (in their early 20s). We wanted to both test out the concept of “evil” and get some feedback on the Tropenmuseum’s approach to the exhibition. The research was conducted for the Museum by Vivid, a qualitative research company.

So, what was our audiences’ connection with ‘evil’??

We found that the word ‘evil’ had powerful connotations:
* Evil used to have strong spiritual references: evil was previously the devil’s work, part of the underworld

But evil has moved on and now has much stronger human connotations:
* We are saturated with images of humans exacting evil on each other every day
* Evil is now present and very real
* So evil has taken on a contemporary meaning that is inextricably linked to human behaviour, as opposed to mythology or theology

Given this contemporary perception of evil, audiences were largely confused by the exhibition theme:
* Contemporary evil covers themes such as terrorism, pedophilia and drug use which doesn’t seem like content for a museum exhibition
* Our audience expects to see more historical vs. contemporary content at museum exhibitions

The confusion also comes from the topic as they couldn’t identify a learning outcome as most audiences presume they will learn something on a specific topic at a museum exhibition:
* But no one could state what they might learn at an exhibition on evil
* Parents were particularly concerned as they see museums as a way of secretly ‘smuggling learning’ into their kids under the guise of having a good time
* Participants couldn’t articulate any potential benefit of an exhibition on evil

Because evil is now seen to be the realm of humans not myths, they felt evil was personal:
* Respondents’ personal concepts of evil are extremely varied and personal but nearly all modern

Those sampled expected to see some representation of their personal concept of evil in the exhibition, which given the variation of what they thought evil was, means that there is potential for disappointment. These conceptions of evil will be explored in my next blog post.


  1. Hello Lynda,

    All about Evil reminds me of the front end evaluation we did for you for the exhibition on medieval torture. The images were so graphic that one got nauseous and had to leave the room and lie down!

    The same concerns about having a good time, and potential learning outcomes.

    I wonder whether Evil will be R-rated? Or come with warnings?

    Now I'm wondering about local examples of evil, to give the exhibition local relevance. Perhaps Andrew Symonds is really evil? Examples of real evil seem to relate more to people who were mentally ill, e.g. Martin Bryant. And if you're sick, is it evil?

    Lots of interesting ideas here.

  2. O gimme a break! What do you think you're doing = safe, sanitised evil from a museum. Not down there and in it! That sort of "Evil" is weapon, a stone cast, a thing to brand the enemy - to make the weak feel powerful and to sleep sound at night! So what are you guys up to, eh? Color me purple! Museums are the enemy, the evil, part of the foundations of superior colonisers - British Museum full of Greek marbles and dead Australia aboriginals and Maori heads. Not evil, eh? Then give them back! Who's the evil tyrant then? The guy in Bagdad who had the oil and killed thosands OR the guy in Zimbabwe without the oil and killed thousands? Or the hypocrites who talk tall and choose which one to invade and kick out. "ALL" about evil ... really, cmon. It'll be a comfy ride from the safe places that academics inhabit ... it'll be applauded by the same safe ride people observing society from the clouds overhead. Cmon down and try it in the dirt for a change.

  3. Hi Rollo,

    Good to get such a lively reaction from you! This is exactly our intention - to start such debates with this exhibition - enabling us to stay away from an outcome that can be accused of being too sanitised and safe. I guess this may be a radical idea coming from a Museum? ...

    I've been having some conversations with the exhibition's anthropologist and we both agree (with you) that too often the curatorial 'voice' comes from those 'ivory towers' in the museum world! How we negotiate out of the mould of Museums being lofty, academic, institutaions with biased, myopic views on culture, may be tricky. Of course we need a display based on fact but we certainly want to extend and challenge various viewpoints on culture.

    There are in fact many exhibitions these days being informed and developed through community consultation. The aim of All about Evil is to involve our audience and talk to our communities in order to set up a viable discussion about possible exhibition content.

    and who knows where this may lead us?...
    It may mean ultimately, that we have to rate the exhibition M or R, for the purposes of telling some provocative stories and showing explicit content. I hope we can do this. I also have the concern that some Museum stakeholders may want to censor what could be a very lively show indeed!

    So - thanks for your criticism, it will help us get to the point and stay true to what our audience thinks is important as far as exhibition content.

    I'm looking forward to hearing more about tangible content ideas you may have so we can roll in the dirt.

    P.S - I like your reference to the charatcter in LA confidential who is the ultimate criminal, who, through maintaining anonymity is able to avoid the lawful consequences of a life crime - now perhaps that is evil?