Museum unveils a child-free gallery

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN ARE to be banned from one of the galleries of a pounds 97m arts, science and nature centre, funded by the National Lottery, because they are too noisy.

The move follows private research which showed that the thing adults hated most about visiting science museums was the noise from children. It puts the At-Bristol centre - one of Britain's biggest projects for the millennium- sharply out of tune with government thinking.

The head of At-Bristol, which opens next year, is Gillian Thomas a former assistant director at the Science Museum in London. She said she was impressed by the research findings and decreed that among the many galleries there should be a quiet room where only adults could study multi-media exhibits about the human brain.

Children and families will be strongly catered for in other parts of the centre when it opens in March 2000. But if the experiment of having one "quiet gallery" is a success, it is sure to be considered by other museums and galleries.

Ms Thomas will also break the mould of current arts thinking in other ways. The Bristol project will not be marketed, as is usual, at family audiences. Older people and single people will be catered for to reflect current demographic trends, particularly in the West Country. The centre will be liberally sprinkled with seats and - unlike most traditional museums - visitors will be encouraged to sit in the display rooms.

The new centre, Ms Thomas said, will be out to attract the "silver surfers", the jargon for older people becoming attracted to the Internet and computer technology. A further initiative to mark it out as a museum for the new millennium will be a cyber-cafe with sofas to attract female Internet users. Research found that women were deterred from using the Net because they disliked the business-style, bar-stool atmosphere of many Internet cafes, and wanted a room where they could be comfortable.

Ms Thomas said yesterday: "We will be doing a number of things differently. The trend now is towards a lot more single adults on their own and if you just focus on families with 2.4 children you're missing what's happening. There's a really good market for coach tours for pensioners and we have worked hard on the seating. A lot of places don't like you sitting down. But I think you can't focus on something when you're physically uncomfortable."

She added: "We asked adults what they most disliked about science centres. And they said `noise and children'. So we have created this space where children are banned."

Above all, she emphasised, At-Bristol would encourage visitors to become involved rather than just look at objects. There would be a large number of hands-on exhibits, multi-media displays and scientific experiments in which visitors could participate.

The nature building will have a mixture of live animals and a new Imax cinema showing wildlife films.

Between the science building - called Explore - and the nature building - called Wildscreen - will be a new square as large as Parliament Square in London, with art and sculptures, aimed at becoming a city centre meeting place.