The town of Klagenfurt in Austria didn’t have a central library so they decided to turn the whole city into one big virtual library. The Project Ingeborg initiative placed stickers on area businesses featuring a QR code and NFC technology. The sticker’s tech links to free reading. There is a murder-mystery available at the police station and a little something about salvation available at the cathedral. Anywhere you go, there is something to engage you, enrich you, and act as a city wide library at your fingertips (or smartphone-tips, as it were).
I would love to see this applied to the museum world. As someone who operates a very small museum, I know from experience how many more people can be reached off-site (to be exact: all of them except the 1300 who find there way to our building). As a suburban museum, our community’s biggest artifacts are the repetitive houses that fill up our city and the low-slung retail buildings that evoke the 1950s. Residents love to see what busy corners used to look like when they were dirt-paved and hosted a few early businesses. Why not use this un-museum concept, or more accurately a museum-everywhere concept to place a little historic interpretation around the neighborhood like a trail of breadcrumbs to the past?
Imagine an art museum who could “hang” some artwork that complements each storefront on a street like a digital art jukebox. Imagine using your mobile device to connect a place to an artifact, an oral history story to streetcorner, or to hear a story read, hear a snippet of a walking tour.
If your town or neighborhood doesn’t have a museum, would you make your town or neighborhood the museum?
Recently, the idea of the pop-up museum has been gaining some traction is the larger museum community. Its an idea that those of at Museum Unbound have long held close to our nerdy little hearts. What exactly is a pop-up museum? A pop-up museum is a short-term thing existing in a temporary space. A pop-up exhibition or pop-up museum is usually based on ad hoc contents, visitor contributions, and of-the-moment timing. What results is an experience that is more visitor-centric (crowd-sourced!), more intimate, more social, and feels a lot more freewheeling and fun than what most people would expect from a museum.
Here’s how it works: for a few hours, perhaps, participants offer up something they’ve brought (or photographed, or drawn, or made). Sometimes there is a theme like “Favorites” or “Thanksgiving” or “On the Move.” They write the label for their object. It is a part of something bigger until its time to go home.
Here’s a template for a simple pop-upfrom Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog . Here’sa pop-up hosted by museum professional and fellow blogger Michelle DelCarlo. She’s spent a lot of time in the past year and beyond thinking about and creating the conversational spaces of pop-up museums. Here’s her template for the DIY museum. In fact, she wrote her graduate thesis on pop-ups and you can read the whole thing if you want!
These work a lot like events rather than exhibitions. There is the element of limited-time only. Pop-ups usually happen in an existing institution. Do they have to? Maybe not! Existing museums can use them to get beyond their four walls: The Walker Art Center’s Open Field is a sort of pop-up on the lawn and transit geeks (with good timing) can immerse themselves in Berlin’s subway history with a site-specific pop-up. Using this as an organic, guerrilla idea can mean that no “big-brother’ museum is even involved. Some have proposed using DelCarlo’s template to bring together people riding on the same train to the same museum conference. But someone has to be in charge, right?
Some of us bloggers here on Museum Unbound regularly daydream about how we can take a curated museum-like experience outdoors, guerrilla-style, or on the road, have it be mobile, easily deploy-able, at night, under a bridge…or how to combine art with history or any number of things that challenge the notions of what a museum is and what a “museum” experience entails.
One challenge to translating the expected or unexpected museum experience to new venues and surroundings is the desire for visuals to go with ideas. Can new, affordable digital technology win the day? With a desire to turn our talk into action, I spied an open box PICO Pocket Projector. I’d been meaning to look into purchasing one of these miniature projectors for an upcoming exhibit at my museum! Out of its zippered carrying case, it looks like this:
It’s smaller than most paperback books and can take its source material from USB, HDMI, an micro-SD card, or various others. The exhibit doesn’t get installed for two months so I ask you, dear readers,
what kind of trouble can we get into museum experience can we create in the next 60 days that unravels the idea of a museum and knits it into a new shape?
So I passed this storefront the other day. It used to be a Panera but will soon open as something else. Three large signs in the window read GUESS WHAT’S NEXT. I got super excited! I was ready to make my guess; I was ready to fill out my post-it note; I was ready to fill out my Candy Chang-style “I wish this was” tag!
No, no. They just wanted me to muse about the new restaurant in my own mind. The option to actually participate by, well, making a guess in some forum (online, with cheap post-its, a slot-style box) is becoming almost required in the museum world. Such thought-dead-ends are frowned upon all over the museum lands.
I found myself shocked out of my all-museums-all-the-time world. I found myself grateful that I work in an industry that is slowly reinventing itself to care about what you think, give you an opportunity to share those thoughts and wants to use collective participation to build community. Whew! I could have gone into commercial real estate where, as we learn here, THERE ARE NO POST-IT NOTES.
This is a rant. Its about the small museum’s obsession with official, legitimate, super-important-making frames and plaques.
I work for a (very) small history museum. While I do have a part -time job at a large museum run by an even larger entity, I also freelance for other (very, very) small history museums. These are the kind of places with a microscopic budget raised by lasagna dinners and a handful of membership fees and donations. They are almost all volunteer-run. So this rant is accompanied by a huge helping of guilt.
I give as much advice as a I can to small museums. I’m for raising the bar at all museums and sharing knowledge is the first step. There is, however, something I haven’t told them yet. I can bring myself to break it to them. I’m not even sure that I know how to put it diplomatically. Its about the frames…and the plaques. Continue reading
A recent post from the Stuff About Minneapolis blog shared a photo from the online collections at the Minnesota Historical Society:
The subject was momentarily surprising and, despite the oddity of finding a crack pipe inspiring– that’s exactly what it was. As an historian, I’ve spent years promoting the idea that the recent past is important and has a place in museums and interpretation.
Why I was intrigued by this particular collection item was that part of me was taken aback and came close to thinking, “hey, that’s not…” before remembering that I spend a good deal of my time explaining why some recent artifact or another is valuable to our human story. This very real look at culture from just 17 years ago sparked some emotions in me and got me thinking about collecting the recent past.
The Minnesota Historical Society isn’t the only historical agency that is committed to collecting the kinds of artifacts that we think of as new. Some members of the East Coast’s largest historical society, the multiple-state Historic New England found it strange that this institution put a George Foreman Grill in its collections. Historic New England’s CEO had this to say about “new “ history.
At Historic New England, where we have added a flower-decorated orange crock pot and a George Foreman grill to our collection, such acquisitions often draw either chuckles or criticism. How can those represent history, we are asked. Why would you want to save that?
Americans are great storytellers who generally value their personal experiences and community and national accomplishments. Such stories include the everyday and the typical as well as the unique and extraordinary.
In our community preservation work, in our museum collections, and in our personal saving of the stories of our families and our lives, we need to recognize that history begins one minute ago, and we need to work to ensure that a complete record of our own time survives so that the future can understand the experiences of today.
The 20th century is entirely history. Its buildings and artifacts and images need to be preserved and collected now, as part of the continuum of history that enriches American lives.
Often we think of the “50 year” rule to declare something as historic. Historic Registry status for buildings works this way and the 1950s and 1960s are just now finding their place in brick-and-mortar museums. The wildly popular 1968 exhibit that debuted at the Minnesota Historical Society and is currently in Oakland shook up people’s expectations and might just be the heralding of a new era in exhibitions.
In 2012, my little museum mounted an exhibit that presented the Christmas of 1977 in an immersive room exhibit. While I had to answer the usual questions about why and what for, it all became worth it when one dad brought in his ten year old daughter to show her the orange and macrame world of his own youth. They discussed the phone that had a cord, the TV that had rabbit ears and two dials, and, at the very end, she asked her father why there were so many calendars. Her confused dad realized that the cardboard squares that had piqued his daughter’s curiosity weren’t calendars but record albums (he quickly promised to stop by her grandparents on the way home and introduce her to music on vinyl!).
If time seems to be moving faster, shouldn’t our collections policies and our attitudes about what is history keep pace? Does your museum collect “yesterday’s history?” Where should the line be between an object of the present and an object of the past? Should there even be a line?
At the recent AAM conference in Minneapolis, In a roomful of small museum professionals those who were looking to build their museums reputation in the community all agreed that what we needed to do was to stand up from our desks, walk to the door and go outside and out into the community. So I did. Then I did it again. Then I did it a third time. Know what? It’s awesome!
The museum out of which I walked is a tiny historical society with one 2/3 staff member (me!) and a budget that makes most other museums smile politely and look at me like they are thinking “oh, that’s so cute” or look at me like I am a brave patient with a terminal disease. Our community is urban, suburban, mostly residential, aging and diversifying at the same time, and surprisingly small-towny. I hear “oh, I didn’t know we had a museum” a lot. If you can’t get 35,000 residents to come to you, you go to them, right?
So, with an intern, we designed some table top display boards and handouts and went to our city’s farmer’s market for the first of 6 monthly appearances. Result: In the space of two hours hundreds more people know that we exist and that museums might not be as boring and isolated as they thought.
I could get to like this.
Then, I loaded up a tablet with a slideshow of awesome pics, rubber-cemented a map into a small kid friendly activity, assembled my handouts and clipboards, and pinned on a nametag for our city’s Unity in the Community festival. My secret weapon? Another intern heading up an interactive video project designed to engage two generations and to encourage diverse involvement (but more on that later). Result: A lot of people who might have previously thought their their local historical society is for old, white people have been introduced to the idea that everyone is a part of the fabric of the community.
Next, with another set of interns, a self-guided QR Code tour was developed. Quick and dirty, it took us just 12 hours from concept to deployment. I wanted all those people passing by on the sidewalk while we are closed to have a chance to see inside the museum and get some answers to their curiosity. Result: We all got some new skills and hopefully the clicks will start rolling in– stayed tuned for a later post.
Along the way, I re-upped the ante with our organization’s facebook page and became absolutely addicted to the charts and graphs of virality and number of clicks and shares. I started staying up late to stock this virtual social museum with photos and shared links and the result was an increased buzz across the board that translated into a 120% increase in people paying attention to our mission of story-sharing.
In the last two weeks, then, my non-traditional museums– the ones we created online, under a park shelter, in a market stall, on the sidewalk– garnered attention from 40 times as many community members as did the traditional four walls of the museum.
I may never sit at my desk again!
As the director of this museum, Miyazaki has written a clear set of directives that guide the museum. Its right on the museum’s website [link to the manifesto]! That in itself is refreshing and wonderful. No political hedging, no corporate-speak, the vision he has put into writing is divided into two categories: what the museum should be and what it shouldn’t be.
Here’s some of the goods:
This is the Kind of Museum I Want to Make!
A museum that is interesting and which relaxes the soul
A museum where much can be discovered
A museum based on a clear and consistent philosophy
A museum where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy, those seeking to ponder can ponder, and those seeking to feel can feel
A museum that makes you feel more enriched when you leave than when you entered!
To make such a museum, the building must be…
Put together as if it were a film
Not arrogant, magnificent, flamboyant, or suffocating
Quality space where people can feel at home, especially when it’s not crowded
A building that has a warm feel and touch
A building where the breeze and sunlight can freely flow through
The museum must be run in such a way so that…
Small children are treated as if they were grown-ups
The handicapped are accommodated as much as possible
The staff can be confident and proud of their work
Visitors are not controlled with predetermined courses and fixed directions
It is suffused with ideas and new challenges so that the exhibits do not get dusty or old, and that investments are made to realize that goal
The museum shop will be…
Well-prepared and well-presented for the sake of the visitors and running the museum
Not a bargain shop that attaches importance only to the amount of sales
A shop that continues to strive to be a better shop
Where original items made only for the museum are found
This is what I expect the museum to be, and therefore I will find a way to do it
This is the kind of museum I don’t want to make!
A pretentious museum
An arrogant museum
A museum that treats its contents as if they were more important than people
A museum that displays uninteresting works as if they were significant
If you work in a museum, take a look around. Could your leaders make a list this one? Would they? How would your museum’s manifesto relate to your museum’s mission or vision?
What would your personal list look like? This might feel a little like the museum version of “If I win the lottery…” but so many of these “what ifs” are completely doable with a few thoughtful changes!
Are there things on this list you wish were part of your own museum? I am particularly committed to speaking with and treating children as I would any adult and I try to make that an integral part of my workplace. I also appreciate that this list takes into account the people that make it happen by demanding a museum that makes staff proud of what they do.
What goes into your manifesto? We’d love to hear!
Often, museum don’t collaborate because of the risk involved. What do I mean by that? Museums carefully craft their image, maintain their reputation, and work to build connections in their communities. Partnering with a person or institution that may have an unknown impact on those relationships seems very very risky.
The result of this risk management is that museums appear not just “safe” but stodgy. In history museums, where I do the majority of my work, this problem is compounded by the inability to let go of historical authority or to risk a mis-interpretation of history that will outlive us all.
One museum took a fun risk last week that made me shout, “Yeah! Way to go!” at my computer when I read the news.
Reader, meet T.Rex:
This spring in Minneapolis’s Whittier neighborhood there are few storefronts left empty. No, this struggling neighborhood did not suddenly turn its rough real estate situation around. Instead, the community is nurturing a neighborhood-wide celebration of art and renewal with Artists in Storefronts. ( Back it on Kickstarter)
Here’s the scoop: “Artists in Storefronts partners vacant and under-used commercial storefronts with local artists to create public exhibits within those spaces, a collective urban walking gallery! An ongoing project throughout the Twin Cities, Artists in Storefronts aims to work with neighborhood organizations, artists, and local businesses in an effort to promote creativity, revitalize local economies, and provide everyone with equal, open access to art.”
So with a little grassroots administration and some talented people, empty storefronts become a community resource, artists get a temporary gallery, and suddenly the sidewalk becomes a link between people and art. Total win+win.
Is it a museum? No, and that’s good! Museums aren’t often as accessible as next-door or around-the-corner or even on-the-way-to-the-bus. Having culture land, even for just six weeks, in your everyday world changes that world, changes the way you think about that everyday world. Then you start thinking about art and yourself and how these things fit together and then there is no end to the thinking– the thinking!
One of my favorite things when putting people and culture together is to let them mingle with each other. Interactivity, participation, and letting the people be a part of the process and the product is always worth more to me than the expertly curated playlist of culture.
Artists in Storefronts has fostered a few storefront projects that do just that. “Six-word Minneapolis” is a crowdsourced project by Emily Lloyd displaying thousands of six-word homages to Minneapolis like this:
Here’s a project called Before I Die from Candy Chang that turns a wall into a forum. Your mere participation in this work makes you part of it. It makes you an important piece of something larger. What you write matters. You matter. Rinse, repeat, over and over, how do you think that changes a neighborhood?
Art is no stranger to the street, though, and murals and buskers and even graffiti are so at home out in the world rather than inside walls. What about other genres of culture? Can other disciplines break out of their museums and find a place on the outside? Could an archive ever translate to the street? What would history look like if freed from walls or even the fences of outdoor museums? Maybe the better question is what would you want it to look like?