Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Making museums better by adding visitor content

Nina Simon is as live a wire as you get in the museum world and her blog reflects that liveliness big time. For my money her entries are all a little long, but the content is invariably stimulating. As her address is Museum 2.0 http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/you can guess what she writes about. I came across her at Museums and the Web 2009 in Indianapolis where she was very much a shaker and mover of the conference.

And her latest blog has once again delivered, raising an interesting issue. Nina comments on how Web 2.0 gets better by the minute as each new byte of information is added to it – and she posits what if museums got better for every visit? What if information about every exhibit was added to by the visitor, or educational problems linked each class that had visited?

It’s a good thought. Museums have for too long been stuck in the rut of permanent exhibitions being just that – permanent and given a lifespan of eight years or so. Most of them take a mammoth amount of work to get to opening and museum staff sit back exhausted, happy that it will fill the space with only a minor facelift (a coat of paint, a couple of new labels, perhaps daringly a bit of new content) after four years. The web is changing the thinking on this as on-line exhibitions can change by the hour and moreover their success or otherwise can be charted by Google Analytics.

So what if an exhibition could be added to in some way so that not only would it have changed by the time the repeat visitor decided to return, but the content just got richer and richer. I am reminded of a show I think I saw at the Migration Museum in Adelaide where a local ethnic minority had started by exhibiting examples of their community. Word had got around and other members of the community started bringing in related material. By the time the show was over, the exhibition was so much richer, and I suspect the community was also socially much stronger, so it had benefits on a number of fronts.

That brings me to another related point that there is a real opportunity to create a forum for exhibition reviews. A National Gallery blockbuster may warrant a review but when else have you ever seen a review of a new exhibition, except in professional magazines. You can read web critiques ad infinitum on the latest theatre or film in town but not of the newest exhibition. Are people not interested? I don’t believe so – if there were reviews to read I am sure they would be quickly picked up. further adding to the way in which visitors can bring value (for better or worse) to their museum/gallery-going experience.

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