How do you see the museum experience in 20 years?

I’ve been asked some really interesting, if not really difficult questions by some  fabulous students on the MA Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries at Central St. Martins.

One of the questions is this:

How do you see the museum experience in 20 years time?

To be honest I had to think about it. and I went through a series of thoughts: “woha thats a big scary question”, “I have no idea” and “urm brilliant”.  So I tried to split it down into its component parts. What do I love about museums now? Answer: eveything (even the bad bits) What will I love about museums in the future? Answer: everything (even the bad bits).  But how to articulate that?

So I tried to break it down again.  What I love about museums, is the overall experience. the people, the ideas, the objects. everything.  So in an attempt to provide a full answer here is the waffle.

“In 20 years I see the museum as providing an experience which encourages the visitor to wonder, question, explore and make connections.  Exactly the same as museums have always done. I don’t know what the technology or interpretation and participation opportunities will be like in 20 years time, as technology and interpretation strategies are continually evolving at such a fast pace.  But I hope we will see museums challenging themselves and visitors by providing more flexible and personalised experiences which encourage interaction and discussion between visitors and between visitors and the museum”.

I’d be really interested to hear how you see the museum experience now and in 20 years? will it be different? the same? better? worse? non existent?

The wonderful Mar Dixon has already replied on the twitters: ” Still touching hearts for everyone that steps through the doors.”

I love her beautiful honesty.

Last week I had a bit of a rant. This time I’m calmer

Last week I had a bit of a rant. And then went on holiday for a couple of days to the countryside and got to play with a lovely dog called Rita, who took all my angst away.  But whilst I was away it appears that being called Claire and having a rant was contagious.  My boss Claire also had a rant on her blog.   Both of our rants ended up with some interesting comments.  Check Claire’s blog post out about Anthologize here and her follow up to the comments here.   I wish my rant was as eloquently put.
But back to my rant.  Frankie believed my post to be a bit unfair and with hindsight he is correct.  I still stand by the fact that if you claim  to have yet, however, to come across an outfit, small or large, whose goal was to make their entire collection, or even a substantial majority of it, available online. And then use the National Gallery as an example, who’s entire collection is online, then you need to do your homework a bit better.   Normally I am quite up and ready to have a conversation about museum websites and online collections, but for some reason I found myself to be incredibly agitated by the Read Write Web article.  Potentially my agitation was ignited by the opening statement that ‘No one can have a “museum experience” without stepping foot in a museum.’  I don’t think that is true.
For me any type of interaction with any type of museum content is a museum experience.

For example, I went to the Henry Moore exhibition a couple of weeks back (big up to Anne for getting me in for free) and I spent about an hour pondering the shapes and textures. But staring at art is only one museum experience. What about learning, engagement and individual meaning making? For me that can be best achieved online in my own time at my own pace, without being surrounded by lots men and women in suits doing the amateur art critic look on a Friday night at the Tate Britain. Admittedly it was great to go with Anne and talk about the objects in front of the objects, but for personal reflection I did that online in my living room with a cup of tea. After the physical visit; so the website isn’t acting as an advertisement but an enhancement of the physical visit, after I have been. On the website I went round the gallery again finding out more context about the artist, and the theme of the rooms and this helped me to create my own personal interpretation of the art works.

Frankie points out in his post that: We’re good at building web experiences which are optimised at getting users to the thing they’re after (usually information) as quickly as possible, via carefully considered navigation and relevance-optimised search. What we’re less good at is building web experiences where the user sits back and is simply entertained/amazed/enthralled by things they wouldn’t have otherwise come across.

I don’t think this is true.  Ok so not an art example but… I haven’t had a physical museum experience in the science museum for a couple of years, but I visit their website at least once a week. I have become obsessed with thingdom, it’s a thoroughly brilliant learning game, it’s engaging and enjoyable. Is it trying to replicate the physical museum experience? No, it’s creating an online museum experience of it’s very own. And I love it.

Another Arty example: The joy of high resolution images. More and more museums have realised this and can do brilliant things with zoomability.  Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery Pre-Raphaelite collection springs to mind. This is a brilliant resource and for me is a great museum experience.  I have never been to BMAG but I have used this resource many times, and certainly feel like I’m getting a quality museum experience.

The statement about museum experience from the article in essence not only poopoos museum websites, but also temporary exhibition spaces, external installations, and most importantly museum outreach.  Outreach by museums is one of the most experiential scenarios you can be a part of. So yes, it was very definitely that sentence which caused large alarm bells to go off in my tiny little mind. There are so many museums (art ones, history ones, archaeological ones, local ones, large ones, small ones, ones the size of your head) who are doing brilliant work online and elsewhere.  I hope this article actually is the start of a conversation and will do further articles about the museums and online content.