The excitement built considerably as the line edged closer to the door. People were chattering among themselves, some discussing their favourite moments of the movies, some were frantically snapping photographs of the surrounding including the giant posters of the star characters that adorn the walls of the waiting area. Then finally, it was our turn. The group of about 50 of us was ushered into a darkened area, where a staff member was explaining to us what we were about to see or experience, followed by a short film clip.

Then yet another door was finally opened, and we were in.

Cue the “woos” and “wows”. People dashed everywhere to take photographs, and heads were turning here, there, everywhere like owls, to take it all in.

We were inside the “Great Hall” finally. Yes, the Great Hall of the Harry Potter books and movies.

For the next two and a half hours, we wandered through the space that was the UK Harry Potter Studio. Here we saw the sets and props used in the movies, the technology that was used to make the characters fly through the air in the Quidditch games. Diagon Alley, 4 Privet Drive, the Ministry of Magic, Dumbeldore’s office, and even the Hogwarts Express all came together in that space.

By all means and purposes, the Studio was a museum – a museum to a great cultural phenomenon of our times. There were audio-visual elements, interactives for visitors to try their hands at, captions and text panels that explained the displays and exhibits. It used the props in the movies – which recreated the books into a visual feast – and re-recreated the fantasy world of the movies for visitors.

I thought: wouldn’t it be great if museums that deal with more “serious” issues – like history, war, natural science etc – could do more with their display contexts. Instead of propping items within showcases and having empty spaces (as many contemporary designers like to have), have a space that is so contextualised that even the backdrop becomes an attraction in itself.

Then came the “devil’s” voice: But what about conservation requirements? That’s just trivialising history/science/war (or whatever “serious” topics you want to include here)! Not every museum has millions to spend on props, you know!

While I love nothing more than a traditional museum display – one of my favourites is the V&A Musuem – having worked in the museum for a while, and still working on exhibitions, I know there are many people who prefer a more dynamic form of story-telling.

Content is king, and it will be. But museums and people working with exhibition will have to have a paradigm shift to present the content in as engaging a manner as possible. And it is no longer about shoving information down visitors’ throats, but getting them to think, to want to find out more.

~ Jaime

In the Workroom: Museums as movie sets