Paris: the cultural tour

I have been in Paris for seven days and have seen more museums in one week than I have ever before in any city.  Some highlights have include, La Gaite Lyrique a cool centre for digital culture, where we happened to be there for the free evening concert and enjoyed the chilled sounds of Camp Claude.  Palais de Tokyo has been another highlight, an experimental and contemporary space that-

promotes contemporary art with an eclectic and inventive programming on emerging artists from all backgrounds.

Of course there has been the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay (where we queued in the rain for almost an hour to get in, as tourists do, we clearly don’t have this problem in Australia) and the Pompidou Centre.  After tweeting  Musee du Quai Branly about their awesome program Electronic Naps I was invited by the lovely Sebastien Magro to view their exhibitions, talk about the collections and digital culture, gotta love twitter for this. (big thanks to Sebastien for taking the time to contact me and show me around).

Although I am in complete awe of the sense of history and the artworks inside the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay I must say I am drawn to the more experimental and slightly off the edge contemporary art venues and centres for culture, places that are mixing music, programming, outdoor culture and art in interesting ways.  Thank you Paris for a great week!

Ask more questions: bring your audience into the decision-making

A recent conversation in our house started like this:

Why don’t you do an exhibition on dancing?

Ooh not a bad idea, must admit I have not thought of such broad themes like this before and start imagining how this exhibition might look and feel.  But what really gets me thinking, from this conversation, is how to bring audiences up into the beginning of the selection process around themes and narratives.  I see this as slightly different to crowd-sourcing content for exhibitions, which has been happening successfully by museums already. The Brooklyn Museum has used this model with several exhibitions such as Split Second: Indian Paintings-framed as on online experiment and the recently launched Go-a community-curated open studio project.

We put on exhibitions for our communities and yet there is rarely the opportunity to engage them in the initial decision-making using our collections with the traditional exhibition development model.  What do you want to see here?  Are we putting on exhibitions that you are really interested in?  These questions may be asked buried deep down in an evaluation questionnaire but are they upfront on our home pages?  Would doing this narrow the gap between curators museological interpretation and visitors experiences?

What if we had a simple tool on the home page of our websites that allowed our audiences to get involved in this process?

This is one that we prepared earlier (disclaimer: it is made by the teenager)

Be upfront about what themes you should be targeting.  They can obviously be steered towards collections, narratives and topics relevant to the organisation, but put it out there.  Be open and transparent about the decision-making.  Ask the question: What exhibition themes inspire you?

Ed Rodley is reflecting on the radically transparent museum in his series Making a museum from scratch and proposes:

that our museum be radically transparent, that we organize it around the notion that everything should be transparent unless it needs to be otherwise.

If we do this, then why not start at the beginning. Be transparent from end to end.

Audiences have a far greater choice nowadays to be entertained due to the vast amount of accessible content that exists in this networked environment.  Do our exhibition models need to change much like the newspaper model has needed too?

Audiences are getting used to sharing processes and getting access to content through social media and online tools.  Providing audiences with the opportunity to have meaningful and engaging ways to connect with museums, exhibitions and collections is becoming even more prevalent today.

If the exhibition model is too problematic to facilitate then the question could be relevant to the collection to engage an audience not familiar with it or not heading over to search.

What object would you like to see in our foyer this month?

Keep it on a smaller scale, sometimes the more scalable model can have impact. With the large proportion of collections not being on display or accessible to the public it is overdue that audiences be able to converse more deeply on their existence. Collections like menus:

What would you like?

Obviously then we have to think about and be agile enough to deliver the new model. As Mia Ridge points out on her post Museums and the audience comment paradox that it can be a big challenge to provide a quality experience when implementing ‘have your say’ interactives.

But worth taking some risks I say. We need the ‘What’s on’ in our sites but we should be adding the ‘What would you like us to put on’ too

Photo by Paula Bray  CC BY-NC 3.0

Museums and visitor created journeys

I have just had a remarkable trip traveling through the USA visiting several cities that also included a fantastic road trip through the desert where I experienced the most remarkable landscapes that left me repeating one word for a whole week: ‘wow’.  Here is one of the shots I took on this road trip.

For other’s see my Flickr account.

I visited several museums and galleries on this trip and saw some great stuff but there is one experience I had that keeps me thinking about visitor created journey’s through museums and this was not created by a museum or gallery.  A bunch of us, including several friends who work in museums, went to a theatre experience in New York City, called Sleep no more, a totally immersive experience that tells the story of Macbeth in an incredible set.  It takes place in the McKittrick Hotel (a reference to Alfred Hithcock’s Vertigo) which is actually three old warehouses in the Chelsea district that had been converted together into this hotel.  The audience is issued with white masks, similar to something from the film’Eyes Wide Shut’ and told not to speak during the epic three hour experience.  As you enter the lift with a friend you are then deliberately separated and told to go it alone

‘believe me it will be a better experience’.

Photo by emmastory (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Well, that was it, the next three hours were incredible.  I had to lead myself through this theatre production deciding which actors I would follow, watch or just explore the remarkable sets that had been created over the five floors.  This was such an experience and so different to how theatre is normally seen.  The masks made this even more intense and the silence of the theatre goers increased this.  I was deciding what I wanted to experience and the pace at which I walked through this production.  At one point, after not eating dinner, I was completely overwhelmed with how intense the experience was that I had to head for the bar and miss the last act.  It was the ‘Escher’ of theatre production, almost like a video game and this is what I have been thinking about in relation to museums and visitor led experiences.

I wish every museum designer could experience this theatre production.  I would love to have a similar experience in a museum where I felt as intense, surprised and completely immersed in such a production, where I decide how the journey should unfold, an experience that is not didactic in anyway.  The museum as a form of video game, where no two paths are the same and everyone experiences a different journey.

Slowing the visitor down: the ping pong theory

I have been thinking a lot about ping pong lately.  Why?  Well a recent trip to the Outpost exhibition at Cockatoo island that finishes up this weekend, (definitely worth a visit) has had me thinking a lot about the ping pong tables that were one of the activities provided to visitors at this art from the streets exhibition.  The tables were provided in a fairly central location to many of the artworks featured in internal gallery spaces.  They were all being used and many people were just hanging out in the space, taking their time and enjoying participating in this social game.  So why think so much about the ping pong, well it provided an opportunity to slow down the experience of viewing the artworks and I wonder why Museums don’t think about slowing down their visitors more.  Museums generally provide an experience that should follow a path and certain direction through an exhibition, but what if there were more experiences that allowed visitors to just sit, converse, enjoy a space that’s mission may not even relate to the subject matter of a particular exhibition..  I’m calling this the ping pong theory.

Although we didn’t get to see all the works featured at this great exhibition, mainly due to the horizontal rain that was causing us some serious umbrella issues, there are some great works at this exhibition.  One that I want to highlight is Next-a fantastic display of T-shirt culture featuring hundreds of t-shirts strung from the ceiling in colour co-ordinated lines above large and very graphic portrait photographs featuring the artists that created the works and the origin and story behind the brands.

Photos CC BY-NC 3.0

Outpost finishes this weekend and it is worth a visit.

Sharing digital stories

This is a space where I will share some stories and ideas about photography, audio visuals, digital content, museums + some of the things that I think are pretty cool.  Museums are going through some exciting, but challenging changes at the moment and one of the areas that I find really interesting is the intergration of online digital experiences with the onsite physical spaces that musuems provide.  Museums have enormous potential to create deeper and richer experiences with audiences through implementing appropriate technology and content that enables visitors to delve deeper into stories and information around objects, people and places.

I have been blogging for a while over here and now I find myself wanting to explore some of these issues and stories a little further in this new space too.

Photo by Paula

CC BY-NC 3.0