The Olfactory Storytelling Toolkit

Scents in the museum! For a long time, this phrase would have raised red flags for conservators, curators, archivists, and visitors of heritage spaces. Scents? Where? Surely not in the galleries or in the depot? However, this “scent-averse” attitude is changing. Since some years we find ourselves in a “scent renaissance” where odour phobic attitudes are slowly giving way to practices of olfactory storytelling in the cultural sector.  Motivated by a desire to create more immersive experiences, to diversify the narratives told and the audiences reached, GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) are discovering that smells and our olfactory sense are both powerful tools for storytelling and for the presentation of heritage objects and spaces.

However, the growing popularity of olfactory storytelling in a heritage context also comes with challenges: where to start? Approaching heritage collections nose-first raises many questions about the practice of olfactory storytelling. How do curators find relevant olfactory stories? How do you curate and present unique olfactory objects? How does one acquire or develop heritage scents and diffuse these in the museum? And are there hazards involved?

The Olfactory Storytelling Toolkit is a “how-to” guide for working with smells in museums and other heritage institutions. The toolkit provides a starting point for cultural heritage professionals using smell as a storytelling technique. It starts out by describing the value of working with smells in GLAMs and offers tangible examples of previous olfactory events. In addition, this hands-on guide provides tips for how to build a strong olfactory narrative, how to create heritage scents with a perfumer, how to choose between different presentation techniques, and how to carry out risk assessments. The downloadable Toolkit comes with several practical resources, such as templates and spreadsheets. It provides a powerful tool for curators to enhance the impact of their institutes. The Toolkit will be launched in November 2023 and can be reached through the Odeuropa website.

Overview of the Olfactory Storytelling Toolkit:

  1. Curating Olfactory Narratives (What are olfactory stories and how do you find them?)
  2. Creating a Heritage Scent (How do you interpret olfactory stories into scented material safely and efficiently?)
  3. Olfactory Event Design (How do I ensure that the design of my olfactory event is suitable for the museum space, staff, and visitors?)
  4. Assessing Risks (How to approach the risks of olfactory storytelling and minimise them?)