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Comparative Analysis of the Visitor Experiences from Museums
A visit to the museum usually starts with a warm and courteous smile from the employee
of the Welcome Center, who is willing to provide the relevant information to make the
experience memorable. As the visitor asks questions regarding the exhibitions, galleries,
directions to them, he or she is convinced that his or her time at the museum would be one that is
well spent despite the low-level knowledge on arts, artifacts, or the techniques for creating them.
Interestingly, the Smithsonian Museums were established to provide the right experiences,
generate the interests of the public in the various cultural practices and historical information of
various civilizations through the artifacts that are displayed at the various galleries. Also, the
ambiance and the overall environment of the museums are considered as elements that contribute
to the promotion of these experiences in the visitors. As experts noted, a visit to the museum
showed to provide the individual the opportunity to develop socially, intellectually, and
culturally depending on the reasons for the visit. The detailed analysis of the similarities and
differences between the National Air and Space Museum and National Gallery of Art revealed
that their structural design, the spatial orientation of the gallerias, the type of exhibits, and the
effective use of digital media all contribute to the positive visitor experiences at these facilities.
Therefore, a visit to these museums would enable the individual to enjoy the four dimensions of
the visitor’s experience, including the object, cognitive, introspective, and social experience.
Overview of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM)
The National Air and Space Museum was established in 1976 to serve as an institution
that preserves the largest collection of aviation and space materials and items that reflect the
innovative approaches that humans have utilized to fly into space. Aside from the opportunity for
millions of aviation and space science enthusiasts to view these collections of important
materials, NASM also serves as a research center for earth and planetary studies. According to
Quinn Evans (2019), one of the unique attributes of the NASM is that its exhibitions of the
various innovations for a human flight provide learning platforms for young people and
contribute to strengthening the American spirit of resilience and courage. Smithsonian Institution
(2019) further added that this cognitive value, historical significance, and social relevance of the
exhibits at the NASM that has made it achieve the ranking as the most visited museum in the
United States. Similarly, the Washington DC location of the NASM is popular for its 21
exhibition galleries that house an estimated 60,000 objects, including the aircraft and spacecraft
that represented the unique milestones of human flights. As a result, the National Air and Space
Museum has items and materials that teach visitors the history of astronomy, aviation, and their
principles were used to demonstrate the relationship between time and navigation.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the National Air and Space Museum has focused on
educating and inspiring through the relentless pursuit of consistent transformation and
improvements of its programs, processes, and resources to make the exhibitions, family day
events, and lectures to contribute to the unique positive experiences of both one-time and regular
visitors. As part of its mission to educate the public, NASM has ensured that its research
programs and their outcomes are used to advance intellectual conversations on the history,
culture, and science of space travel and all the aspects of the aviation industry (Smithsonian
Institution, 2019). Therefore, it is crucial to evaluate these programs, exhibitions, the spatial
arrangement of its galleries, and the integration of digital media resources to the attainment of its
mission and vision in the context of its visitor experience and those available at other
Smithsonian Museums in the United States.
Overview of the National Gallery of Art (NGA)
The National Gallery of Art is the largest collector and preserver of over 140.000
artworks that represent various cultural civilizations, historical paintings, and sculptural of
different nations that tell the stories of the evolution of humans. The artifact that is exhibited at
the NGA galleries is used to demonstrate the relationship between the Renaissance eras and
modern times and contribute to the education of the millions of people who visit the facility in
Washington, DC, either once or regularly. Destination DC (2019) described the categorization of
the NGA galleries into Sculpture and Nineteenth-Century French as not just part of its unique
attributes but a reflection of the efforts of its leaders to contribute to the intellectual, cognitive,
social, object, and the introspective experiences that visitors derive from their trip to the
museum. For example, the 19th Century French Galleries focus on the organization of the
paintings into historical themes to promote easy navigation by visitors and positive interactions
with the works of Van Gogh, Monet, and Cezanne, among other painters from the Renaissance
era. Hence, it is imperative to analyze how the periodic lectures, regular family activities,
exhibitions, films, tours, and other programs that are organized by the leadership of the NGA
contribute to creating the desired positive visitor experiences that are required to sustain the
millions of visits to the galleries.
The Dimensions of Visitor Experience from Museum Visit
The visitor experience in a museum results from the interaction or conversation with the
environment or displayed exhibits, which is related to the growing perspective on the personal
engagement between consumers and institutions that provide them services. In the case of a
museum, Dilek, Doğan, and Kozbe (2019) wrote that the increased rate of addiction to digital
media and devices among the potential consumers of museum services makes the need for the
institutions to identify new approaches for delivering visitor experience. It is a responsibility that
is making the museums redefine their roles in the provision of the right experience to the
millions of visitors who view their exhibits and enjoy the ambiance of their environment. As a
result, visitor experience from museum visits is the immediate opinion of the individuals to the
activities, settings, people, and events that encounter in this particular environment outside their
Furthermore, the management of museums in the country is striving to drive positive
visitor experiences with their exhibits, which are programming elements that allow the staff to
provide the help that enhances the contributions of the physical spaces and other elements of the
museum setting. It is a perspective that is based on the four types of experiences that motivate
people to spend their time and money on a visit to the museum to view the paintings, sculptures,
historical documents, and other archival materials that are displayed at the exhibition galleries.
According to Sintas, Alvarez, and Rubiales (2014), social experiences are the type of perspective
that results from the individual capacity to connect with people and satisfy their physical
attributes that motivate the desire to acquire introspective experiences. They further added that
the need for the museum visitors to use their visit to connect with the spiritual and cultural
dimensions of the exhibits is part of the need for cognitive experiences that enhance their
intellect, especially when they observe the rare and beautiful objects from historical eras. When
the relationship between these four dimensions of the experiences those museum visitors seek,
then the position that museums must become settings with attributes that align with the physical
and psychological attributes of the visitors. Therefore, an understanding of the different
identities of visitors is required for illustrating how the comparison of the two museums showed
their potentials to contribute to the positive visitor experience.
Visitor identity is a concept that the literature on the dimensions of the experiences that
museum visitors develop and uses to motivate their participation in the different events,
programs, lectures, and other activities at the facilities. Zhang, Chang, and Tsai (2018) claimed
that the complex interaction between the personality traits of the individual and the external
stimuli that are created by the physical environment impact the level of satisfaction that is
derived from the experience. This claim is a valid one because the understanding of the
motivation and barriers that determine the visit of people to the museum would lead to the
creation of the various identities that museums must identify and provide the resources to meet
their respective needs. In this regard, the explorer is seeking the object experience because of the
potential of the unique or real items such as paintings, sculptures, and other exhibits to arouse
their interests in acquiring more information about them. (Tzortzi, 2014). Also, museums must
recognize the facilitators who are interested in the social experience and not concerned with the
professional visitors who use the exhibits and other aspects of the museum as resources for
satisfying specific interests. Consequently, the visitor experience is also dependent on the
identities of the different categories of consumers who visit the facilities to learn, socialize, or
fulfill their desire to become participants of unique experiences.
Comparative Analysis of Visitor Experience at these Museums
The National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space Museum consist of physical
structures, including the galleries and other areas that provide visitors the opportunities to derive
the social experiences that motivated them to make the trip to the facility either as an individual
or part of a group. As one of the dimensions of the visitor experience that is dependent on the
spatial organization of the museum and how the physical space is designed to stimulate the
senses for recreation, the galleries, exhibition venues, concerts, and other entertainment areas of
these museums are similar and possess the potential to provide the physical stimuli that result in
positive social experiences for the visitors (Smith, 2017). However, the arrangement of the
exhibits within the physical spaces at the NGA and the emphasis on using the spatial orientation
to create themes that combine old and contemporary arts together is a contrast between both
museums that would make the museum more effective for enhancing social interactions through
the physical environment. Also, it is a perspective that is supported by Carbon (2017), when the
scholar argued that viewing conditions of the museum shapes consumer experience more than
the emphasis on digitized presentations. In this regard, the potential of visitors to observe the
painting, sculptures, and other exhibits at the NGA at a close distance makes its physical space
and structures superior in providing greater positive visitor experiences than the NASM.
Additionally, the comparative analysis of the exhibits and the approaches that the NGA
and NASM utilize for delivering positive visitor experiences revealed both similarities and
differences in their delivery of introspective and objected experiences. NASM’s use of Barbie to
represent the progress that women have made in aviation and spaceflight during one of its events
is an example of how the museum uses familiar items to educate and inspire visitors about the
science and development of the field. Similarly, the paintings of the 19th Century that NGA
exhibits in its galleries are effectively creating the object experience from seeing something rare
and uncommon by the people, especially when these images are not the digitalized ones that are
available during the virtual tour of the same facility (Tzortzi, 2014). However, the NASM has the
potential to leverage digital technology to enhance the object and introspective experiences of its
millions of visitors than the NGA. According to Carbon (2017), the digital versions of the
artworks of famous painters and sculptors or the artifact from different human civilizations lack
the authenticity that result in the introspective and object experiences. In contrast, the NASM has
the greater potential to leverage the high dependency of most of the visitors on digital devices to
deliver object, and introspective experiences to their visitors since most of its exhibits, including
the first plane by the Wright Brothers does not possess the abstract configuration that is needed
to appreciate them (TripExoert, 2019). Therefore, NASM has a greater potential to utilize digital
media for its tours and activities to provide the scientific fantasy and fiction that its experienceseeking visitors need to derive the level of satisfaction that they require from the facility.
Furthermore, the critical analysis of the potential of both museums to provide cognitive
experiences to visitors showed that their exhibitions are designed for this purpose and have been
successful in this regard. In the case of NASM, the exhibition of space crafts and the lecture
series on the science of aviation and space travel are effective approaches to teaching young
people about the history of our collective efforts to fly and materials that were used to
accomplish this goal over the years. Although Mujtaba, Lawrence, Oliver, and Reiss (2018)
claimed that it is challenging for museums to replicate the digital experiences that consumers
derive from their screens, the NASM has used the same approach to provide learning
experiences to enhance visitors’ cognition of the models that made the landing on the moon
possible. Also, it can be inferred that NASM’s integration of technology into the presentations
and films is part of the motivating factors that the museum has used to attract millions to its
exhibits annually. Similarly, NGA has continued to use its 140,000 art exhibits in the gallery to
contribute to the learning potentials of all demographics on the cultural practices that people
from various human civilizations used to sustain their identities (Silver, n.d.). For example, its
annual themed exhibitions include lectures and gallery talk foster and promote intellectual
conversations about some art forms and their historical relevance either to the artist or the era
when they were created. Therefore, both museums contain exhibits, activities, presentations, and
items that provide learning opportunities for visitors and support their desire to derive cognitive
experiences from their visit to the facilities.
In conclusion, the ability of a museum to provide a continued positive experience to
visitors is critical to the performance of their role as non-profit centers for facilitating intellectual
conversations about human history, the accomplishment of different generations and
civilizations, and the cultural practices that defined various societies. While there are similarities
and differences in the roles of the exhibits, artifacts, materials, documents, and items that the
National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space museum use to provide positive visitor
experiences, both institutions have succeeded in their quest. Also, the comparative analysis of the
services that these museums provide showed that the integration of digital media into the
exhibitions and learning resources of the NASM is more effective than the NGA. However,
NGA has a greater capacity to deliver more positive object and introspective experiences than
the NASM due to the alignment of its physical spaces to give viewers and visitors that chance to
view the real paintings, sculptors, and cultural items closely. Similarly, the comparative analysis
showed that the various activities, events, and exhibits by both museums would contribute to and
enhance the social and cognitive experiences of the visitors to their galleries, sculpture gardens,
and recreational areas.
Carbon, C. (2017). Art Perception in the Museum: How we spend time and space in art
exhibitions. I-Perception, 8(1), 204166951769418. doi: 10.1177/2041669517694184
Destination DC (2019). National Gallery of Art. Retrieved from https://washington.org/find-dclistings/national-gallery-art
Dilek, S., Doğan, M., & Kozbe, G. (2019). The Influences of the Interactive Systems on Museum
Visitors’ Experience: A Comparative Study from Turkey. Journal of Tourism
Intelligence and Smartness, 2(1), 27-38.
Smith, R.P. (2017). Here’s Why Washington’s Beloved Air and Space Museum Is Facing a Sweeping
Seven-Year Upgrade. Retrieved from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonianinstitution/here-why-washingtons-beloved-air-and-space-museum-facing-sweeping-seven-yearupgrade-180967107/
Mujtaba, T., Lawrence, M., Oliver, M., & Reiss, M. (2018). Learning and engagement through natural
history museums. Studies in Science Education, 54(1), 41-67. doi:
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strategies for sharing experiences. Museum Management and Curatorship, 29(3), 241259. doi:10.1080/09647775.2014.919175
Silver, D.M. (n.d.). Using “reverse thinking” in an unconventional design sprint at the National Gallery of
Art. Retrieved from https://sprintstories.com/using-reverse-thinking-in-a-design-sprint-at-thenational-gallery-of-art-why-bad-ideas-lead-to-b4b854e8f1e7
Smithsonian Institution (2019). About the National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved from
Tzortzi, K. (2014). Movement in museums: mediating between museum intent and visitor
experience. Museum Management and Curatorship, 29(4), 327-348.
TripExoert (2019). National Air and Space Museum versus the National Gallery of Art.
Quinn Evans (2019). National Air and Space Museum. Culture Project. Retrieved from
Zhang, H., Chang, P., & Tsai, M. (2018). How Physical Environment Impacts Visitors’ Behavior in
Learning-Based Tourism—The Example of Technology Museum. Sustainability, 10(11), 3880.
doi: 10.3390/su10113880

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