Thursday, 25 March 2010

My So-Called Life*

My Life as an Object is one of the more interesting social media/museum outings I've seen in a while.

Each week, a collection item from Nottingham City Museums and Galleries is 'brought to life' through a social media channel. First up was a Raleigh Chopper with its own Twitter stream; this week it's Tea at Englefield Green, a painting by Paul Sandby, which has been opened up for collective story-telling on Flickr.

The project has been commissioned by Renaissance East Midlands (an organisation that supports museums in the East Midlands region of England) and is delivered by Rattle, with the redoubtable Frankie Roberto at the helm. (You can see his write-ups on the Chopper and the painting on his blog)

What I like about the project is its focus: time-bound explorations of single items. It's a canny project-based approach which could be continued, but could equally be abandoned.

People might object that the Chopper only had 53 followers, or that the painting only collected X comments and Y notes, and does that all seem worth the effort? To which I'd respond - how much effort went into that floortalk that only 12 people attended? And was that a waste? Genuine enjoyment on the behalf of the people taking part in the activity, and genuine enjoyment and learning on the behalf of staff seem more important to me than raw numbers.

This leads me to a few concerns I have when I look at the project so far. Staff from Nottingham City don't seem very involved in what's going on. The Chopper was voiced (really well) by a hired writer; there aren't comments from identified staff members in the Flickr stream (although admittedly it's early days). Nor can I find any trace of the project on the Nottingham City website, and the online activities aren't linked to from the collection items (although god knows I know what an easy request that sounds like, and how hard it can be in practice).

In fact, when you start picking things apart, there's still some work to do in tying all this back to Nottingham itself - for example, putting the name of the work and the artist, and a link to the collection record, on each image on the Flickr stream - or noting whether it can be seen in real life.

But perhaps I'm being too literal and a little premature. As Roberto notes
this project is all a bit of an experiment. You could consider it a small-scale prototype. It’s not being widely promoted or marketed, instead the aim is to test some ideas, and see what works.

This is one of those few projects where it’s okay if things fail. Which is liberating and exciting in equal measures.

And how refreshing is that?

*Please don't take the post title as a slight on the project. It's just that it made me think of the short-lived TV show which I loved, but am too scared to revisit in case it doesn't live up to my memories.

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