Dariusz Stola to The NPU Conference 2016

by NPU — 2016-06-22

Since the Grand Opening in late October 2014, when we opened our core exhibition, Polin Museum has enjoyed a lot of media attention in Poland and internationally, and a wide stream of visitors : more  than half a million people have visited the core exhibition alone, while more than 100,000 have taken part in our cultural and educational programs. The museum has also earned a lot of praise from both lay public and top experts, of which the European Museum of the Year Award is the best known expression.

I see several causes of this success, but let me stress just three of them. First, I would point at the museum’s solid foundations. The museum was long in the making: it took two decades to convert its original  idea into a fully operating institution. Throughout these years,  the conceptual basis of the museum, the historical narrative and its translation into the visual language of the core exhibition, have been thought and rethought, discussed many times, challenged from various perspectives. As a consequence, the intellectual foundations of the museum are solid. Second, the idea of a site specific museum presenting thousand years of Jewish life in Poland, has attracted many outstanding people, who devoted their time, expertise or money. Third, a series of great public debates on history of Polish-Jewish relations, which Poland has experienced since 1989, has made Polish public, media and a part of political elites quite  interested in Poland’s Jewish past. 

The mass interest for the museum has grown faster than I expected but we cannot take it for granted, nor assume it will continue without our systematic  efforts. We wish to attract at least 450,000 visitors per year. The key pillar of my hope we can make it is the satisfaction of those who have already seen the core exhibition. We have made exit polls that show they like it, find the experience at Polin valuable and worth recommendation. As many as 95% declare they would recommend it to family and friends. Of course, this is just a declaration, but from other research we know that some of them actually do recommend: for many  of our visitors the main source of information about the museum, which contributed to their decision to come, were family and friends. Thus we can hope for a snowballing effect, if only the museum continues to leave such a good impression. This requires high maintenance of proper quality of visitors’ services, of our many multimedia (250 computers that control touchscreens and projectors) and all that contributes to the visitor experience, from convenient opening hours to taste of coffee in our cafeteria.

I can speak of what may seem technical or secondary aspects of the visitor experience because we believe the core exhibition is very good. What is still ahead of us, is the systematic research on its impact. We plan to make a study of what the visitors remember of it, and what they think on relevant topics, a few months after the visit. We also need to learn more of who our visitors are and why they come. They are a diverse group, consisting of Poles and foreigners, Jews and non-Jews, people of all ages and education levels, coming individually and in groups, those who repeatedly take part in our events and those who come once and will probably never return. We can talk of audiences in plural  rather than a singular audience.