Sacred space? Museum journal devotes special issue to sound

Oct 9, 2019 | Blog, Design, Noise, Quiet, Sound

Photo credit: Negative Space

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Do you think of museums and zoos as places of quiet, refuge and reflection? Sure, who doesn’t? They’re invaluable when you need thinking time or just a respite from the noisy, chaotic world outside. Then this introduction to a special issue of the journal Curator will interest you. Turns out museum directors and curators have grown more interested in this subject recently—so interested that Curator’s editors devoted an entire issue of their journal to sound and noise.

Inspiring them to address this topic was The Quiet Coalition’s co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, an indefatigable researcher and anti-noise advocate from New York City—and New York City is definitely a place where world-class museums offer respite and reward to millions of people. This special issue compiles 18 papers from several decades of work by researchers and museum curators on how to use quiet and sound as part of the museum experience. Here’s what journal editor John Fraser has to say:

Today, this special double issue of Curator seeks to bring to the attention of museum leaders the value of listening to our museums. Museums may be more focused on listening to their visitors, but the papers on the following pages suggest that we have a long way to go to ensure that all senses are considered an essential part of all museum experiences.

I found it fascinating, for example that the reverberant sound from the walls of a zoo enclosure significantly increased the aggressiveness of–and diminished the sexual behavior of–rhinoceros females. What lessons might we infer about humans’ increasingly violent and aggressive behavior in the crowded, glass-walled, reverberant canyons of modern city streets?

Wonderful, voluminous reading from an unexpected and very well-informed perspective. Enjoy!

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