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Down. Photo by Laura Thorne on Flickr.

by • 19 Dec, 2010 • Thoughts about museumsComments (4)3170

Are we in a race to the bottom?

Saturday I visited an exposition in a renowned and highly successful museum in Amsterdam. Although the exposition was beautifully composed and displayed unique artefacts, I left untouched by what I had seen. No word was uttered about the museum or exposition afterwards.

A week earlier I had visited a wonderfully designed museum elsewhere in the country. The furnishing was amazing. The interactives were perfect. I left not knowing the basic statistics about the topic the museum dealt with, or feeling the need to take action.

Maybe it’s museum fatigue. Maybe it’s something else.

I’ve been stung by the idea of a race to the bottom. Seth Godin writes about it nicely on his blog and in his recent book Linchpin. A race to the bottom occurs when you give up what you stand for (ethical values, high-quality products, originality) in order to get a bigger slice of whatever pie (market share, visitors, page views).

An example: If I compose a list of 28 simple things to do with new media, I know I get a lot of page views but give up what I stand for with this blog. If I do so all the time, I will end up with a lot of worthless page views.

And when you hit the bottom…

I imagine a theatre where they give up experimental or somewhat difficult plays that have a hard time selling tickets to favour cabaret that also does well on television.

I imagine an orchestra that limits itself to playing classical adaptations of pop music or supporting famous pop artists, because Brahms and Bach don’t draw large audiences.

I imagine a museum where excellent marketing and magnificent exposition design pull large numbers to an empty vessel for the sake of selling tickets alone.

I’m not saying the museums I visited are in a race to the bottom. I’d recommend them both. I don’t even know what a race to the bottom for culture would exactly look like, but I know it’s somewhere we don’t want to go.

Photo by Laura Thorne on Flickr.

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  • Bartgrob

    You sound like a curator, that’ good! ((-:

  • Although I think there’s nothing wrong with curators (really!) I didn’t write this from a curatorial viewpoint. I wrote it from a visitor’s viewpoint. There’s nothing wrong with marketing and design, as long as it sells something worthwhile:-)

  • Lemondesign suggests on Twitter it might have to do with our having to develop a business model. Although this might be right, I disagree for two reasons:

    1. Having a business model does not mean you have to be in a race to the bottom. There’s countless businesses out there that are in a race to the top and are most definitely out to make a healthy profit.
    2. If your business model is based on a race to the bottom, especially as a cultural institution, I’d strongly recommend you reconsider it. Most business models I’ve seen in the cultural sector, though, are based on a race to the top, offering high-quality to visitors.

    Nevertheless, you might be right.

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