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?
It’s been a few days now, and my legs (and my sleep pattern) have finally recovered from the second annual Northern Spark festival. Northern Spark is a Twin Cities arts festival based on the idea of Nuit Blanche. This year in Minneapolis, the event involved more than 200 artists.My friends and I were out all night and only made it to about 15 events. It was hard to decide where to go!
We started the night at Father Hennepin Park, playing at the projects that were there. We roasted marshmallows on the back of a bike, ate delicious 10,000 Licks popsicles and explored quite a few smaller projects. After that we headed to the Ten Second Film Festival, The Soap Factory and a street dance party.
At midnight, my friends and I took part in the Kuramoto Model firefly ride, where 1000 people had synchronized bike lights and rode across the Stone Arch Bridge. It was more of a bike scoot rather than a bike ride, but it was pretty magical to watch all of the lights blinking together.
After the bike scoot, we rode with a wild pack of cyclists to The Foshay Tower. Despite living in Minneapolis my entire life, I had never been to the top of the Foshay. The project there was interesting, but the view alone was worth the wait.
After a brief break for refreshments, we biked to Loring Park. At Lunalux Press we had a great time during their participatory hourly poster project “Letterpress Lock-In”, where every hour a limited edition poster was sourced from community ideas. Ours say “Minneapolis: Art Bike Love Laugh”. Pretty adorable.
Outside Lunalux was a cool car with a projection inside of it that made it look like it was traveling down a country road. It was pretty mesmerizing. From there, we headed to Walker Art Center, where there were tons of things happening. There were campfires in the Open Field. The galleries were also open, and as we were hitting the three a.m. wall we got sucked into a 25 minute long film of a flooding McDonald’s. It’s amazing how things get a little weird when you are sleep deprived (and maybe a little intoxicated.)
There were so many projects that I only caught a glimpse of that I wish I could have participated in. One of these was a cool restaurant hosting meals via Skype.
Throughout the whole night I was of course thinking how cool it would be to do a nighttime history event. The Minnesota History Center would be a little scary at night I imagine. Show those art people that they aren’t the only ones cool enough to stay up all night.
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!
These are seed bombs. They are the inspiration for the term I made up to describe what I am talking about on Museum Unbound, “Culture-Bombing“.
The function of a seed bomb is a radical insertion of flowers into the landscape. You don’t ask for permission to plant a garden. You toss in a seed bomb and one grows.
Culture bombing is the same. You don’t ask for permission. You toss in some culture (be it art, history, science, whatever) and a conversation grows.
There are thousands of ways that people are doing this. Culture-bombs can be digital, mobile or physical. They can be planned by organizations, institutions or individuals.
The possibilities are what makes them great.