Impressions of MuseumNext NYC 2018
I attended my first MuseumNext Conference that just happened in Manhattan. MuseumNext often bills itself with the tagline "The Future of Museums" and while this NYC edition had a decidedly digital bent, I was pleased to discover that not everything in the museum world's future appears to be digital.
First, a few general impressions before I highlight a few specific sessions that struck me.
MuseumNext NYC had a relatively small number of participants (around 300) although they hailed from 15 different countries in addition to attendees from North America. The presentation format is TED style, so all MuseumNext attendees see the same presentations all together in rapid succession (there is a lunch break and a short afternoon coffee break, but otherwise the sessions move right along.)
While this format has benefits, as an attendee if you don't like a presentation you are stuck -- there are no other concurrent sessions to jump to. And this was a problem for me during the 2-day conference because several presentations were more "sales pitch" than sharing of expertise and experiences. That's fine, and to be expected, in the case of MuseumNext sponsors who were given the stage, but it felt a little slimy in the case of the other presentations.
My other quibble with the MuseumNext NYC schedule was that there was not enough time for socializing and networking. I would have appreciated the opportunity to spend a bit more time with more of the very interesting attendees!
Below are some takeaways and impressions of some MuseumNext NYC presentations that particularly appealed to me. (You can find many of the MuseumNext presentations and slides here.)
Hannah Fox from the Derby Museums in the UK led off the first day of presentations by sharing the approaches that bring the Derby Museums and programs such acclaim. I was particularly struck by how often the word "prototype" came up in Hannah's presentation! The Derby Museums try out everything with their visitors and community partners. I also appreciated how often Derby's cross-disciplinary teams pushed back on the “it would just be better if I did it myself” approach.
Laura Flusche from the Museum Of Design Atlanta (MODA) explained how she and her staff create a "maker museum" that constantly uses design thinking and "radical friendliness" to incorporate visitor feedback into their process. In a simple equation, Craft + Activism = Craftivism at MODA. So, letting visitors create at MODA to express their stories. (I also loved the corridor of pool noodles from the “Designing Playful Cities” Exhibition!)
Christian Rohner from the Museum of Communication in Berne, Switzerland explained how their museum re-allocated budget to switch from volunteers and part-time “communicators” to all permanent staff and how the redesign of the MoC made sure every object was coupled with a human story.
(I also loved how children could follow a graphic "squirrel story" without words to experience the Museum of Communication.)
Victoria Travers from the Auckland Museum explained how the museum staff used Facebook as a means for collecting objects from current events (like the worldwide Women's Marches following Donald Trump's election.) The Auckland Museum also did a lot of prototyping and shifting of exhibit experiences based on visitor feedback. (In the picture below, the upper left image shows how staff thought visitors in Auckland would use a feedback experience, and the other images show how visitors took over the whole feedback experience and space!)
One of my favorite quotes on Day 1 came from the engaging presenter Liat Rosenthal, curator of Uniqlo Tate Lates (evening events at the Tate Modern.) She and her colleagues think about a museum as "a university with a playground attached."
Day 2 at MuseumNext NYC 2018 featured two very different, but equally strong, digital museum experiences:
ReBlink at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) used Augmented Reality (AR) technology to help visitors engage more deeply with a small selection of paintings from the permanent collection. Working with creative company Impossible Things, the AGO was able to create deeper visitor engagement by introducing modern images and ideas into classical artworks. (Evaluation shows that visitors shifted from spending two seconds (on average) with AGO paintings to 4-9 minutes with ReBlink paintings.) Here's a video teaser of ReBlink (below or on Vimeo)
The folks from Impossible Things also gave a pop-up demo of ReBlink during the lunch break.
Ann Neumann from the MIT Museum shared the lessons learned from the development of the immersive Virtual Reality (VR) project, "The Enemy" developed with Camera Lucida. By juxtaposing the stories of combatants from conflicts around the world the MIT Museum asks whether VR can be a tool to expand our moral imaginations?
Of course, after learning about two wonderful app-based projects, JiaJia Fei from the Jewish Museum in NYC gave a wonderfully contrarian and compelling argument against apps in museums! Basically, visitors to the Jewish Museum access web-served audio guides once they connect to the museum’s free WiFi — no downloads or apps. (A major limitation of the use of apps in museums is the minuscule percentage of visitors who actually are willing to download an app onto their devices.)
One of my other favorite presentations from Day 2 came from Tim Powell of the Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) in the UK. Tim shared several of the exciting ways that HRP are using an R&D approach through collaboration with artists, and by gaining audience input from the start.
I'll end my impressions of MuseumNext NYC 2018 with this image of Rolf Coppens from Grrr creative agency in Amsterdam. I think the qualities of pushing boundaries, working together, being demanding, and keeping users first were certainly captured in many of the presentations (and my takeaways) from the conference. MuseumNext was definitely not a typical museum conference, and I would encourage ExhibiTricks readers to check out a future edition near you if the opportunity arises.
You can check out additional impressions of MuseumNext NYC 2018 by searching for the hashtag #MuseumNext on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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