Wednesday, December 8, 2010
What if your museum stopped making exhibitions?
This is, in only some ways, a rhetorical question since many museums have lost the internal capacity to actually develop, design, prototype, and fabricate their own exhibit components and exhibitions. Worse yet, some museums were intentionally designed (architecturally or managerially) to never have any internal capacity to create (or perhaps more importantly, repair or improve) their exhibitions.
But leaving the notions and importance of internal capacity aside, are traditional conceptions of exhibitions actually holding museums back from expanding their reach to younger, non-white audiences, and people who wouldn't even normally consider visiting a museum at all? (Check out the work of Reach Advisors to examine the unsettling demographic trends around traditional museum visitors and visitation.)
If the compelling value that museums offer are the dynamic duo of "stories and stuff" how can we repackage narrative formats and object presentations in ways that move past parades of casework and frames in Art and History Museums, side shows of phenomena or relics in Science Centers and Natural History Museums, or candy-colored collections of miniature structures (or heaven forfend grocery stores!) in Children's Museums?
I'm not suggesting that museums give up objects or narrative, just the way they combine and "package" those elements. In the short attention span world of Twitter and the post economic crash world of, well, now, does it really still make sense to spend several years and several million dollars to mount a major exhibition that will likely remain largely unchanged for the length of its run?
I'd say no, but what do you say? Where are the museums (or non-museums) that are presenting narrative and physical objects in "post exhibition" ways?
"Object Theatres" in museums (especially at Science North in Canada) were a stab at this, and "moving museums" like Maria Mortati's San Francisco Mobile Museum project are focusing on people and their stories without a lot of the infrastructure of traditional museum projects.
Last, but not least, are there viable digital tools that can reconcile and bridge virtual worlds and objects, especially the authentic objects that still seem to be an essential part of the museum experience? (Rather than degenerating into a discussion of "shiny new toys." ---> Oh! oh! let's buy ten iPads and figure out how we can use them in the museum!)
Lots of questions and ideas buzzing around my head! Please help me gather these woolly thoughts into a more cohesive tapestry of "post exhibition" ideas by adding your own thoughts or examples into the "Comments" Section below so I can do a follow-up posting or article that can pull more of these ideas about "post exhibition" museums together.