Museums are where this adventure begins.
Not everyone wants to participate.
I super-appreciate the awareness of this sentiment. Sometimes people want to show up, and just absorb. Sometimes it’s that people don’t know how to participate – the space is too large and the possibilities too great. They need some guidance, some way to focus their ideas and help them identify what it is that they want to express. Scaffolding spaces and interactions to break down the barrier that prevents people from wanting to participate requires some knowledge of instructional design in that it is necessary to help the participant along, but not so much that the outcome is decided for them. The participation event should be open-ended so that the patrons get to come to their own conclusions, and create their own original experiences.
Some simple easy-entry examples follow. The Tate Museum in London provides a frame based on the works of featured artists for you to stand behind, along with the suggested hashtag #modernistme, so you can take a friend’s picture within the frame and post it to social media. The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam provides visitors with the opportunity at the end of the visit, to write in a digital guest book, sharing their thoughts about the exhibition, and how the visit affected them. These letters are posted on the museum website and can encourage others to participate, to come to the museum, and provides a way for patrons to share their experience with the exhibit. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has an annex gallery where people can line up to use a VR headset to explore a Francis Bacon’s studio in whichever way they like. These situations all occur outside of the gallery spaces and are just some of the participatory options available for visitors.
Turn right – Here comes Nina Simon
Nina Simon is a powerhouse. A self-described shy powerhouse, but one I had never heard of before I began reading Participatory Museum, which in turn lead me to Museum 2.0, the 11-year-old blog she created after being inspired by a conference. Reading her personal timeline of events from motivated conference-goer, all synergy and serendipity, and space with others, to finding her way to leading sessions, hosting parties, meeting with colleagues and friends, to eventually building her own mini-conference of her own tribe. Now, 10 years later, she has evolved to discover new and interesting ways to learn with groups. For Nina it’s trainings: “These training experiences are leading me to more breakthroughs than I’ve experienced in other learning formats. The content is highly targeted, the facilitation strong. I’m excited about pursuing other opportunities to learn, in groups, from experts with relevant content and methodologies” (Simon, Museum 2.0).
I used to love conferences too. Perhaps it was because I had direction, and the things I was learning at those conferences helped move me forward, gave me ideas which built on my own ideas, and helped me get things done. What I needed at those conferences, and what Nina hits on in her discussion of these trainings, is that I needed time at those conferences to participate and work with my team to develop those ideas, strategize and plan. There’s so much good information, that I reach a period of overwhelm, and while I’m stoked with what I’m learning, it is difficult to process that energy without engaging with content directly.
Right now the spaces where I learn the most, are places where I show up with no expectations, but that I am initially drawn to for either their subject matter or for the experience, such as this group of online classes that I’m taking, or going to a museum. Sometimes I learn something just through the process of project work and/or writing, and sometimes I learn and find brilliance through exploration that heads off into some new discovery, like finding Nina and her blog, for example. I like being surprised but, the learning space has to be authentic.
Turn Left – Look Out! It’s the NMC Report – 2016 Museum Edition
NMC report from 2016 which was a collaboration between Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC) and New Medium Consortium Horizon (NMCH) is organized into three sections: 1) Key trends, 2) Significant Challenges, and 3) Important Developments, as each relate to technology in museum environments. Each of these sections is organized into timelines, or in range of difficulty of implementation. The two ideas that are four to five years out (now three to four) are Information Visualization and Networked Objects. Information visualization “is the visual representation of technical, often complex data, designed to be quickly and easily understood” (NMCH 44). This is interesting because the context book I covered for this class was “Dear Data” and one of the authors, Giorgia Lupi currently has a showing at the SFMOMA, which does exactly that. She has measured specific areas of her life, and illustrated this data in colorful, and sometimes whimsical, drawings. Her approach addresses the major challenge museums faced with displaying data, in that many people don’t have the background or experience to interpret the data. With Lupi, the data is her own, and the “visualizations [are] personal, fostering opportunities for deeper connections between the patron and the content” (NMCH 44). The second emerging technology is Networked Objects, which is the process of linking objects to information about them on the web – a physical hyperlink. This networking provides information not only to the museum’s patrons but also to the conservators and curators, recording and transmitting data about things like room humidity, exhibit movement, attendance, and potential damage. The most exciting idea mentioned is being able to create a “museum without walls” where cultural information about items out in the world is available and can be accessed 24/7 (NMCH 46).
These hyperlinked museum spaces allow the patron to choose and participate in their own adventure. Learning and participation is available to everyone, and at whatever level of interaction they are most comfortable. Providing patrons with authentic, self-directed, and meaningful participatory experiences helps museums meet the goal of increasing the focus on personalization. Using technology to this end has already begun, and as evidenced by both Simon and NMC, will continue to expand its influence.