Four years ago I was approached by Cécile Marsan to participate as special advisor in a European research project about creativity in museums. The proposed research was action-based – learning by doing – and the partners came from France, Ireland, the UK, Norway, Finland, Italy and Croatia, as well as the United States (my fellow special advisor Don Undeen). This month, the final meeting took place in Lyon. Time for a wrap-up!
The Creative Museum Project kicked off with a mapping of good practices from across the world about the collaboration between creative communities and museums. Within the project, I interpreted creative practice as the act of involving creative communities (e.g. makers, artists, or active citizens) in core functions of the museum, such as storytelling, exhibition design, research, etc. What we found, was a high quantity and diversity of creative practice in cultural institutions. There are many ways in which museums are opening up their collections and buildings to new audiences. Many of them are guided by notions of a participatory museum, technological innovations or simply a desire to be more audience-cantered.
We found something similar when (as a spin off of the project), we mapped cases of participatory governance in cultural heritage. There are sufficient cases of institutions that genuinely involve their audience, all for their own reasons.
Within the Creative Museum Project, our challenge then became to see if we could distill order from the myriad reasons for, approaches to and ideas about creative practice in culture.
My role, amongst others, was to analyse MuseoMix: one tool to connect museums and creatives through a weekend-long hands-on intervention. I joined MuseoMix Côte d’Azur in Nice as an observer (there is a certain appeal to doing European projects), for the first five minutes, and then as an enthusiastic participant for the remainder of the weekend. Combining my (amazing) weekend in the south of France with earlier experiences in working with creative communities and my background in community-driven design, we distilled 7 key factors that determined success in a collaboration:
- Creative communities, i.e. working together with established communities of makers, tinkerers, designers, doers, etc.
- Distributed capabilities, i.e. doing something that really requires skills beyond your own (organisation’s) skill set
- Collaborative organisation, i.e. working together in the process and product
- Leadership, (“There is no boss.”) which is a story on its own.
- Have fun,
- Strive for real impact,
- and lots of exercise.
What I liked about the Creative Museum Project was how it was possible to immediately implement the findings in the project itself. So the list above was turned into a game which we played during a dissemination event in Helsinki later in the project: Cards Against Creativity.
The dissemination events were something special anyway. On a personal level, the Creative Museum Project has given me the opportunity to chair a considerable number of events, and to experiment with alternative formats – A Museum Maker Market in Dublin, the above-mentioned game in Helsinki, and a sing-along conference in Bologna. I enjoyed this greatly, as I love to be the host of such events and turn them into something special.
A part of the project I wasn’t involved in, but which created quite some buzz, was the Maker in Residence part. Different makers from different places in Europe worked for a while from the partner institutions on specific challenges. The results of these collaborations – which were presented in Zagreb – were amazing. Have a look for instance at this projection mapping done in the Chester Beaty Library.
After all the studies, experiments, interventions and meetings, the past few months it has been time to find the lessons learned, as I mentioned before. The final publication is a document with recommendations about building a creative museum. The conclusion after three years: Museums can be more innovative and relevant organisations, if they invite the creativity inherent in (their) communities to be a part of their practice. To do so, museums must connect with communities, create spaces for yes, and focus on proven strategies for success.
I really enjoyed working on The Creative Museum, and building relations all across Europe with highly creative and talented professionals. I still feel we barely scratched the surface in this quickly developing field, and that there is a lot more to learn and explore about the relation between creative communities and cultural institutions. This has been a highly useful first, big step.
Thanks to Don, Margherita, Cécile, Pier Giacomo, Jenny, Justyna, Juliette, Ann Siri, Jo-Anne, Deborah, Janne, Pauliina, Noémie, and all the others who were part of this project. And thanks to Erasmus+ for funding The Creative Museum Project!