Since relaunching last summer, we’ve followed the blog Museum 2.0 with interest. On it, Nina Simon, a multi-tasking author, consultant, and exhibit designer, makes the case for making museums more visitor centered and engaging. In other words: Incorporate the kinds of participatory tools people are already using on the social Web en masse. Sounds like a no-brainer, but for museums it represents a dramatic shift in how visitors are defined; “passive consumers” are now “cultural participants.”
It’s not mere branding speak but a matter of survival. Over the past two decades, cultural institutions have seen their audiences decline as other forms of entertainment and learning have emerged. A 2008 survey by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts charted these trends; read it here.
“Visitors expect access to a broad spectrum of information sources and cultural perspectives,” Simon writes in the preface to her recently published book, The Participatory Museum. “They expect the ability to respond and be taken seriously. They expect the ability to discuss, share, and remix what they consume. When people can actively participate with cultural institutions, those places become central to cultural and community life.”
The good news? Simon believes history museums like ours (though we consider ourselves a history/city museum hybrid) are very well-positioned to make the transition. “As cultural anthropology has swung away from a vision of authoritative history and toward the embrace of multiple perspectives, there is potential for those stories to come from all over the place, including visitors themselves.” For us, this has meant turning a rather traditional arts and crafts exhibition into an opportunity to host DIY workshops and sharing the results online, and streaming images of Vancouverites and their bicycles into our exhibition on the city’s bicycle revolution—to name just two examples. Small gestures, perhaps, but part of a concerted effort to reflect what’s happening in the city in real time.
We’re constantly finding inspiration from the many incredible examples Simon uncovers. We loved the 3six5 project and theDenver Community Museum’s pop-up shop experiment (an image from it is pictured above). Way too many to list. On Wednesday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m., Nina Simon will join us via Skype to discuss her work, her book, and other great examples of participatory museums at work. Details on the event here. Hope you can swing it.
Image credit: Museum 2.0