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Jane Addams Hull-House Turns to ‘Slow Museum’ Programs

Museums move too fast these days, trying to keep pace with competing entertainments by presenting rapidly changing exhibitions, interactive technology and trendy cafes, says a museum director at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Lisa Junkin plans to hit "pause" at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum with the Slow Museum Project. The project "reenvisions the museum as a site of recreation, reflection and respite," says Junkin, interim director of the museum, and is inspired by the Slow Food movement. It will be funded by a $40,000 grant from the American Alliance of Museums.

"We’ve organized Slow Food programs for five years, and we want to apply 'slow' ideals—thoughtfully sourced ingredients, worker advocacy, savoring what we consume—to the museum experience,” she says. "Quick fixes may capture visitors' fleeting attentions, but they also contribute to the larger problem of an overworked and oversaturated society."

The museum is housed in the Victorian mansion that served as home to Addams and other reformers as well as headquarters of the Hull-House Settlement. The reformers defined leisure as the basis for culture, and therefore critical to learning and socialization.

Today, the museum staff eschews most fast-museum techniques, yet works quickly to present programs that address urgent social issues—maybe too quickly, Junkin says.

"Ironically, we haven’t allowed ourselves enough time to evaluate our work and ensure meaningful visitor experiences," she says.

Junkin says Slow Museum techniques can include unguided tours, an artist-made "reflection room" with musical components, playful visitor evaluations, poetry writing, communal meals, and games.

She is looking at techniques devised by two early Hull-House residents: sociologist Neva Boyd, a leader in the modern play movement; and Viola Spolin, who is credited with inventing improvisational theater. Boyd wrote extensively on children’s games. In a previous exhibition, the museum offered cards describing improv games devised by Spolin.

— Source: University of Illinois at Chicago