Makers in a museum in Nice

by • 7 Mar, 2017 • People, Strategy, TechnologyComments (3)10822

Mixing museums and makers

“Makers make museums matter.” – Don Undeen

The Creative Museum Project, which is nearing completion at the moment, has over the past years investigated and experimented with the relation between makers (creative communities) and museums in Europe. Although its findings are not yet final (stay tuned for a final event later this year!), after a successful meeting last week I’d like to share some insights.

Makers are part of the DIY culture and typically have a focus on technology (code, robotics, design, etc.), which they use solve problems creatively. When makers and museums work together, the result is often a creative interpretation of the collection or a typical museum fiction (like education) that makes it more accessible to a wider audience. E.g. projection mapping of Islamic collections, a chair that dances like nobody is watching, or an Olympic torch that acts as a personalized tour guide for families (a project I worked on during MuseoMix Nice in 2015).

Having studied and worked on connections between makers and museums for years, my conclusion is that the mix very well.

If you want to see for yourself, download the Creative Museum analysis of best practices (PDF), which presents a long list of projects where museums and creative communities (including makers) have worked together.

The opportunity for museums and makers is that they have long-established shared values. As Don Undeen likes to say, “we’re all geeks”. Both museum people and makers care about details, creativity, objects and stories. Sometimes museum professionals are makers (have you ever seen a painting being reframed?). At the very least, museum collections contain objects made by (ancient) makers.

The challenge for museums and makers is that they speak a different language, have a different attitude and often different objectives. There are many exceptions, but for instance museums may move slowly, while makers move fast. When a museum puts something on display (such as an interactive), it needs to be stable, safe and strong enough to resist 1000s of hands; a maker can be perfectly happy with a prototype that proves the concept.

To overcome these challenges while grasping the opportunities, the project partners of the Creative Museum project have compiled a list of recommendations about how to be a creative museum. The PDF with all the details, case studies and back up information will be online shortly, but I wanted to highlight two recommendations:

  1. Connecting with communities: Around every museum, every collection and every story there is are countless communities (including maker communities) that have or could have a relationship with it. Connecting with these on a content level invites their creativity into the museum. (How? This is one of my approaches.)
  2. Spaces for yes: There are countless valid arguments to limit or control the creativity of communities in a museum context. For successful collaboration, however, it is indispensable that there is a time and a place where things are possible, easily, and quickly. A place (physical, virtual, organisational) where everyone can say “yes”.

I think these recommendations work on the individual level as much as on the institutional level. Everyone can start connecting with communities right now, and create small spaces for yes within their own sphere of influence. Throughout the project, I regularly did workshops and activities that did so for people on a small scale, immediately. The impact is always unexpected (especially when it is scaled up to the institutional level afterwards).

The final report and deliverables of the Creative Museum Project will dive deeper into these and other recommendations. Make sure to follow the project on Twitter or Facebook to stay in the loop. And until then, enjoy this advice on being creative from the project partners:

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