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.