‘Reshaping the Art Museum’

I’m sneaking a moment from revision to point you to this thought-provoking article ‘Reshaping the Art Museum‘ in Artnews:

To an unprecedented degree, market research about the needs, wants, fears, and anxieties of visitors is shaping how museums are designed. “We got a lot of comments that it’s just overwhelming to come to museums,” says Lori Fogarty, director of the Oakland Museum of California, which inaugurates a complete reinstallation of its art, natural history, and science collections this fall. So the new galleries will feature “loaded lounges” where visitors can relax, read catalogues, or do hands-on activities, along with open spaces that accommodate up to 25 people for concerts, storytelling, or other such programs.

But a bigger change in her plan is connecting people who might never have visited art museums with the people who curate them. Fogarty calls it transparency—”breaking the fourth wall”—having curators answer questions about how and why they choose works. Visitor feedback will be encouraged, and the exhibitions, in turn, will be based on the “wiki model,” with curators representing only one voice in a mix that includes conservators, community members, and artists. “We can’t count on the fact that potential visitors were brought to museums as kids,” Fogarty says. “Many have no cultural or experiential reference; they don’t think of the museum as a place that welcomes them or has anything of interest to them.”

At the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, director Olga Viso is also using a major reinstallation as an opportunity to remake the museum into a more civic space. “We want to be in dialogue with the audience instead of in the place of authority,” as she puts it. Such efforts may mean involving the community in the organization of shows or asking people to vote on the selection of artworks. When the new installation opens in November, says chief curator Darsie Alexander, curators will hold in-gallery office hours—giving visitors insights into the way exhibitions happen, and giving the staff a chance to find out “how visitors encounter work in space—the kinds of questions they ask about art, what they find interesting, and how long they stay.”

And for all the innovations in programming, marketing, and education, Campbell argues, the core mission remains the same. “We can make ourselves more user-friendly, but ultimately one of the key experiences of visiting a museum is that moment of standing in front of an object,” he says. “Suddenly you’re responding to something physical, real, that changes your own perspective. And great museums will always do that, as long we get people through the doors.”

Institutions, authority, community and social media

A very interesting example from the library sector – the CEO of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) posted about twitter, and caused a minor outbreak of fury. A little while later he posted what I think is an honest reflection on and acknowledgement of the issues raised, and of the changes institutions face in the era of social media – ‘social networking [is] changing the dynamic of institutionalised professionalism’. It’s also a good demonstration of the idea that making mistakes in public doesn’t mean the end of the world, and might even cause positive changes.

In a post titled, Yes, let’s try that! the CEO responds to criticisms of his original post (below):

I went on to make an observation (that there’s a widening gap between the culture of the institution and the culture of the network) and ask a question: How can we best combine the authority of our Institute and the democracy of our network?

CILIP (like many organisations) is conflicted between authority and community – or (to put it in a way which chimes more with this discussion) between systems and conversations.

So let me try to explain my thinking – and show why I think the discussion about using social media is also a discussion about the future for professionalism.

We can’t simply (as some comments have suggested) ignore the issue of authority. After all, we’re a profession which prides itself on authenticating information as well as providing access to information – “authority control” is a skill we practice. And any profession worthy of the name has to have systems in place to authenticate and accredit professional practice. The problem (and that sense of frustration and irritation) arises when an organisation’s systems and a community’s conversations get out of kilter with each other – when the gap appears to widen between the organisation and the community, between the institute and the network, between “us” and “them”.

For context, the original post, All of a twitter, that kicked off the debate started:

There’s some twittering at present about whether CILIP has (or should have) any “official” presence on various lists or micro blog sites.

The simple answer, of course, is no. In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.

It’s interesting seeing how the library sector is grappling with these issues, particularly in a week when the ‘creative spaces’ beta launch has caused such a stir.