Personal Experiences in Museums

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Asia Between Worlds, Weltmuseum, Vienna. Photo, Jenny Siung, 2014

In my last post I wrote about some recent and not-so-recent write-ups re: digital engagement in museums and cities.  I posed the question what next for museums; gone are the days when art and culture were confined purely for the elite and wealthy. Just look at Waldemar Januszczak on BBC4 The Renaissance Unchained series exploring the art of the Renaissance, who it was commissioned by and what these works symbolised (it just happened to be on TV while writing this post). Nowadays museums face a multitude of challenges including how to reach diverse audiences and hold on to them.

Digital trends, as cited in the last blogpost, offer a solution to one of these challenges and yet do they provide meaningful and personal experiences for visitors as raised in Museum Geek’s post? If museums decide to combine both digital and audience engagement what are the results? Are they short or long-term initiatives, experimental, explorative and ready to take ‘that’ risk and admit when mistakes are made as well as celebrate successes?

Just look at BBC’s Get Creative Scheme launched in 2015.   This is a national campaign that wants to unlock creativity of everyone in Britain. Imagine if museums did the same and through digital engagement?  Would this then result in both meaningful and personal experiences on a digital platform? Or as humans, do we require face-to-face interaction with both objects and people?  I remember listening to an inspirational talk by Heather Nielsen of the Denver Art Museum where she spoke about participatory approaches in museums, i.e. creating opportunities for visitors to engage within the museum rather than the museum primarily presenting its collections.

These terms (participatory arts practice) refer to arts programmes and activities in which people play an expressive role.  They are activities in which people are involved in making, doing or creating regardless of skill level. The James Irvine Foundation

Audiences, i.e. visitors of museums be they physical, virtual or intellectual, all have the potential to be creative. So why do some museums create a barrier between creative audiences and their collections?  Is it due to their fear of sharing their knowledge letting people in on their ‘secret’ therefore making curators and researchers obsolete or is it that museums forgot to look outside their walls to tap into the other world, i.e. the real world?  I think it is a combination of the two as well as that well-known fear factor – change.

If museums could take a leaf from Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire and provide a space for audiences where they can let loose, i.e. tap into the messy process of creativity; imaginative play; passion; daydream; solitude; intuition; openness to experience; mindfulness; sensitivity; turning adversity to advantage, think differently.  Would these approaches both digital and physical provide meaningful and personal engagement? That’s for my next post.

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