So many of the options offered in this module were very appealing to me and after browsing through each, I decided that the module on the topic of participatory museums would be really interesting to delve into. I’ve had personal experience with participatory museums in quite an unexpected place – on Second Life (SL)! Below is an image of one such virtual museum.
I’ve been an active role-player in SL for many years now and one day, I came across a particular place while roaming around in-world and decided to take a look inside. It was fascinating and I’d never seen anything like it before! The building was based on a real museum on the east coast (for the life of me, I can’t remember which one!) and inside were digital versions of the various paintings and sculptures that exist in the real-world place. What stuck out to me was the immersive quality of the experience. With the help of a location-provided user interface element, also known as a heads-up display (HUD), I was able to focus in on a particular piece of art of interest and read about its creator, its provenance, its style, the artistic techniques used in its creation, and other aspects of its history. I found that a really spectacular way for the museum to reach out to a very specific type of virtual audience.
This is exactly the sort of thing that many in the museum profession are seeking to incorporate into their services – making the visitor’s experience more dynamic and relevant in relation to modern technology and popular culture. In Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum, she explains the importance of engaging visitors and encouraging them to become involved in their own museum experience rather than being “passive consumers” (Simon, 2010). The primary issue discussed is related to attendance and audience – people are visiting museums less and the people who do visit are “older and whiter than the overall population” (Simone). One key theme that pervaded each of the readings was this question: How can we engage a younger, more diverse community of people in an institution perceived as outdated, boring, and even snobby?
As the subject of the module alludes to, one solution is to find ways to utilize modern technologies to the advantage of the institution. Just as many forward-thinking libraries have removed several outdated policies restricting use of cell phones or certain website visits on library computers, many museums are doing the same. By shifting to a more user-centered focus, museums are learning about what their visitors want – they want the freedom to come to their own conclusions about what they are experiencing and to share and discuss what they are experiencing (such as through picture sharing). Museums can satisfy these needs by engaging visitors directly. As Jamie Cho describes (Cho, 2016), one museum in Southern California has utilized a hashtag to elicit participation from members of the public. They encourage any person to take a picture of themselves spinning around on a public piece of art and to create their own captions on Snapchat.
In all, this has been such a fun topic to discuss. It’s so great to see the innovation happening in museums to encourage participation from a younger and culturally diverse population. It’s even got me thinking about my own background in classical music. There have been tons of conversations and lots of literature written about how to make this form of art (classical performance) relevant to the people of today. I feel like a lot of the issues that museums experience are similar to those that we experience in the realm of classical music. I’m curious to find information about how this is being addressed within that context – fascinating stuff!
Cho, J. (2016). The impact of social media on museums, art. Retrieved from http://dailybruin.com/2016/01/20/the-impact-of-social-media-on-museums-art/
Simon, N. (2010). The Participatory Museum. Museum 2.0.