Sunday, September 6, 2009

The future of museums according to the ABC

It’s good to see the subject of the future of museums getting some airtime on the ABC on 3rd September.

Frank Howarth, director of the Australian Museum, Louise Douglas from the National Museum of Australia and Angelina Russo from Swinburne University form a forum to discuss where museums are at and going to. It’s all good stuff, mainly talking about the close interaction between real and virtual audiences these days. It’s something that Frank has been an advocate for some time, and given he is a highly articulate speaker, he has become a bit of an international star on this front. Certainly the Australian Museum is looking good virtually (21 million visits of at least 4 minutes to their web site last year) compared to over 300,000 live visits. The ongoing question is how you link the virtual visitor to the real experience.

Louise started life at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney where I worked with her in the 1980s. It was a fabulous time to be there as the project was well funded, all sorts of new ways were being developed for planning exhibitions, there was an exciting new building going up, and we all felt the world was our oyster. In reality the Powerhouse project was truly a catalyst in the redevelopment of a number of major museums in the region – I think particularly of the Melbourne Museum and Te Papa in Wellington - and Powerhouse employees are to be found in almost every major museum in the land. However the building is now seen to suffer from some significant design faults, the most obvious being the lack of a major temporary exhibition space and an entrance that faces the wrong way, i.e. it needs a Darling Harbour front door.

Angelina is Associate Professor in the Design faculty at Swinburne specializing in museum communication. She pops up regularly in anything to do with social media and the web, and was a significant player at this year’s Museums and the Web 2009 conference in Indianapolis. I always find her contribution to be articulate and to the point. So whilst I don’t think much new comes up in the program, it is a useful summary of where a major aspect of museology thinking is at, and I suspect a bit of a revelation to wider audiences.

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