by • 19 Dec, 2010 • Thoughts about museumsComments (4)7106

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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