Wednesday 22 April 2009


If i hadn't just spent the last hour doing what I had to do, I totally would have been watching IMA director Maxwell L. Anderson's opening address to the 2009 Museums and the Web conference (on ArtBabble, woot!!)

I was going to watch the clip anyway, but my interest was further piqued by Nina Simon's latest blog post, where she muses on Anderson's theme, "Moving from virtual to visceral", and contrasts her web and physical visitor experiences of the IMA. From Nina's post:

I was thrilled by Max’s talk and looked forward to seeing how the physical site reflected the transparency and engagement he spoke about. I showed up at the IMA expecting innovation. Instead, I found a standard art museum. Nice art. Impersonal guards. Lovely grounds. Obtuse labels. Interesting architecture. There was nothing that connected me to the visceral, exciting institution Max had sold in his talk, the institution that exists on the web.

Is this a problem? I think so. I felt like I had met someone online, someone sexy and open and intriguing, and then on our first date that mystery museum turned out to be just like all the others. This is a problem that many of the museums doing the best work in social media may soon confront. You join the Brooklyn Museum’s posse. You tag your brains out on the Powerhouse online collection database. And then you show up in person and feel jilted. Where are the friendly, open, participatory experiences you came for? Where’s the museum you know and love?

At the end of her post Nina summarises: "I want museums to be open, participatory, dynamic, and relevant in all places, not just online. If we only do it online, it doesn’t force us to fundamentally change how our institutions work and present content to visitors." It's a situation I've been thinking about - somehow, the web has become interlinked with - even synonymous with - innovation, and this thinking doesn't seem to be permeating museum and galleries' physical offerings.

At work, I spend some time reaching out to & responding to visitors to our various sites, but it's not my job to have that kind of interaction with real world visitors. Online, I'll ping people interesting links on Twitter: onsite, I'd never run up to someone who was flicking through photos and say "Hey - you're looking at ships, had you seen this great shot ... and the info about it here ... and the video here ... oh, so you've got stuff about that too? Awesome!!".

My dream job morphs every couple of weeks. A few weeks ago though my idea was that some museum or gallery would employ me to do just this (in a slightly less invasive manner, maybe). Just like online I connect people to collection items, related material, and related people; I could do that offline as well.

Say we'd be corresponding on the blog, and you were planning to drop by - I'd arrange that you could see that painting you were interested in that's in storage. I'd give you a tour of my five favourite things on a Wednesday. I'd help you use the collections database for your research in person instead of via Twitter. I'd get that installation dude to talk you through how they did the lighting. It's kinda like Public Programmes or Public Relation, only with the person, not at them.


Anonymous said...

There are people in NZ instituions doing just this. I've had a public gallery answer all sorts of questions via Twitter and I will definetly meeting up when I am next in that city. Its really wonderful and improved my view of institutions no end.

I wonder if you could sustain this on a large scale though.

staplegun said...

Um, I'm not saying entrances and staff couldn't be made more welcoming, but do you REALLY want staff harrassing you as you walk in the door or as you walk around? A lot of people purposefully walk AROUND the greeters at Te Papa.

I think whilst online, people give permission to be harrassed (within reason). Would it help if I wore a badge "am open to suggestions"? Or is my blank confused stare enough??

Though, I guess we could look at how online tools could be translated to the offline... Blank PostIt pads so you can tag art works? Guest books where you can write long comments? Speakers corner, but you're only allowed 2 minutes and 20 seconds (140 seconds)?

Chelsea said...

I see what staplegun's saying, and I'm not sure how we (NLNZ) might approach people in person that we haven't had conversations with online already. But I love the idea of continuing a conversation we've had online with someone in the flesh. Maybe take tbreaktweets 'offline' for a tbreak or two sometime and invite people round for show and tell.