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Gallery. Photo by Thomas Hawk.

by • 7 Jan, 2013 • Thoughts about museumsComments (2)3944

The museum as a magazine, January 2013

A recent Pew Report (thanks for the link, Marco Derksen) about arts organisations and digital technologies among 1,244 organisations says ‘77% of respondents agree with the statement that the internet has “played a major role in broadening the boundaries of what is considered art.”’ 78% believes these technologies are “very important” for increasing audience engagement. 97% has a social media presence (and the stats go on). At the same time the Economist in an article on the online art market says, “It is hard to imagine that the internet could dislodge art galleries and institutions from their exalted status, sustained, to some extent, by exclusivity and elitism.”

To me, this sort of contradiction is a pretty good summary of the state of museum AD 2013. We’ve understood we need to change, we’ve changed (some more successfully than others) and we’re still a bit at loss about the bigger picture.

2012 has in many ways been a good year. Around the world (and also in my own little country) museums have launched smart websites and fun apps. My favourite development were those brave souls who put objects online to be 3D printed at home. I can’t back this up, but I’m sure never before have our collections been as accessible as they are right now. Plus, I’m noticing more and more organisations working together on innovative projects, sharing experiences and knowledge. My hopes for 2013 are high.

As I looked through my RSS subscriptions, I found at least 20 high-quality regular blogs where people write about innovation in museums. This blog had as much traffic in the past year as in all previous years combined. This year’s MuseumNext will be bigger than ever before. Undeniably, the discussion we’ve been asking for all this time is being had, right now, all over the world.

Heritage, art and culture are more accessible (digitally) than ever and its hard not to drown in the billions of objects put online under open licences in high quality. At the same time the notion that our strengths are not quantity, but quality gets more traction with every conference I attend. There’s an almost desperate need for more curatorial input, better storytelling, more content based on authority rather than the masses.

While reading Intelligent Life (the snobbish cultural supplement of the Economist, and my favourite magazine in the world, something I look forward to for weeks) I thought about the museum as a magazine. Accessible (everyone can flip through it on the bus, even if you only have 5 minutes), sharable, remixable (scissors!), based on content and stories and – also – highly curated, edited, ‘top-down’. Intelligent Life definitely has an “exalted status, sustained, to some extent, by [its] exclusivity and elitism.” Of its content, that is, not its container (which just as easily houses gossip and weight-loss schemes).

This year, among many other projects I’m currently starting, this contradiction will be key in much of my work, I guess: using digital media to create intense and exclusive experiences for the (right) masses. Also, considering the sector’s track record, I’m expecting many projects that do exactly this from you, dear reader. Please share them with me, as I’d love to start adding your stories to this blog as well in 2013. Thanks in advance!

Header photo by Thomas Hawk.

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  • Jan

    The magazine metaphor is probably more apt than the notion of a museum as an essay, I like that is built on the anticipation of the new and always changing content.  This might alleviate the museum as a simple repository for the past that is surrounded by band-aid experiences, especially if the collections were surrounded by a consistent publishing of new conversations and perspectives.  At the moment I am expanding on a similar idea in writing up a business case for my museum, in the hopes of fostering some new ideas within the spaces of tired cliches being used in exhibition design.  I wonder though, will hackles rise within? One might have to carefully articulate the comparisons of a magazine to a museum, no matter how progressive or innovative an institution might claim to be as the relevance, engagement and experience of magazines easily opens up personal bias and opinions over objectivity.

  • Hi Jan, thanks for your comment. You make me very curious about the ‘business case for my museum’ and the new ideas you hope to bring to exhibition design. Please feel invited to tell me/us more about your quest, which is a very interesting one. Thanks!