Space and Seating at the Museum

Marabou wonders, why don’t more museums offer ample seating and navigable spaces? Is it because of aesthetics (that benches and chairs don’t look nice), curatorial value choices that determine which objects should have more time focused on them, or an institutional oversight?

Hall of Oceania, Africa, Americas Slit Gong Bench
Admiring the Slit Gongs (1975.93) from Vanuatu, Ambrym Island, made by Tin Mweleun in the 1960s. Hall of Africa, Oceania, and The Americas at The Met, New York.

You know the fatigue that hits once you’ve been in a museum for awhile? Perhaps your knees get tired or your feet hurt. What a relief when you finally get to sit! The next time you’re in a museum, look around each space and see where/if there is seating. Where one visitor may see a bench as an unnecessary, but welcomed relief, another visitor can see a bench as essential for having a comfortable and enjoyable museum experience. Whether someone needs seating accommodations is not always apparent. On your next visit to a museum, Marabou invites you to think about gallery space in a new way. Ask yourself, how might someone who has different physical abilities navigate and feel within this space?

Marabou sees the availability of museum seating and accessible spaces for wheelchairs, carriages, and walkers in two ways:

1. Spaces that provide an enjoyable and comfortable experience for as many people as possible communicate the museum’s understanding of the variety of visitor needs and desire to share its offerings in the best way possible. Comfortable museum experiences are made possible by: creating ramps in addition to steps, wide clearances through doorways and around installed objects, wall text and sight lines to view objects for people of various heights, and bilingual guides. These accommodations are just a few that create inclusive spaces and enhance the museum experience for all.

2. Offering seating and creating accessible spaces are curatorial decisions, conscious or unconscious. These decisions influence the length of time visitors stay in a gallery and how many people will see the objects on display. Adding seating in certain areas or in front of certain objects can assign higher value, communicating, “This is an object that should be considered and deserves your time. Have a seat and look.”

Marabou likes taking seating inventories and reading museum spaces for accessibility. Could there be a correlation between gallery content, seating, and accessible space?

bench Met Museum Roman statuary
Sharing a bench in the Greek and Roman Wing at The Met, New York.