I’m going to talk about what public art museums & galleries are doing and what they could do better to promote more creative participation and sharing between creative practitioners and the public. Above all, why they need to be doing it better.
The context for my talk: and why it’s hard to talk about one project in particular, is the role I play in Flow Associates. I work on around 20 projects a year, some are my own research or creative projects. My main personal project is The Learning Planet, a big research project into models of learning, for example led by artists and designers, to enable people to adapt to environmental change.
In this project, I’m telling stories about learning I find around the world that has these principles: Paragogy (peer-to-peer, teachers and learners as peers), Praxis (learning by doing in real situations), Play (imagination, creativity, joy, experiment, making patterns) and Plurality (towards others, against mono-culture, bigger than self).
Most projects I work on are to briefs set by clients, mostly museums & arts organisations, helping them develop digital and public engagement strategies, to reform ways they work or rethink their digital and learning products so that they can be relevant, funded into the future and have social impact.
We have two bases, one in London, one in India. (In early September) I delivered training for museums in India, which encouraged them to think divergently about reforming their organisations. I don’t believe that art and design museums should just copy the Western/European model of grand projects, attracting visitors to see iconic objects. This is not a sustainable model. There has been massive investment in infrastructure, but reliant on very fragile income sources. For Indian museums, we were encouraging more diverse models, more rooted in Indian ways of thinking about developing sustainable communities.
The way art museums use the internet exposes questions about the public service value of these organisations. Art museumshope to thrive within a paradigm where culture is a commodity. Public ownership makes access to otherwise privately owned commodities, and revenue is earned by the public paying for leisure experiences, or for souvenirs of iconic commodities, and to be imbued with the associated knowledge, and also for corporate sponsors cleansing themselves with the wash of culture. This sounds rather cutting, overcritical. Most of the time, I accept that this is the way things are and I appreciate the culture they hold. Consultants (like me) make their living by transferring ‘good’ practice from organisations that most successfully build and their brand around an aura of cultural goodness. It’s a world where fine art is framed outside of the world of commercial exchange and design is framed as aesthetics, to detract from its role in service to consumerism. Art museums use the internet mainly as a megaphone, a marketing device...The Apocalypse. It’s coming. But...what if it really is?
I want to say that many art & design museums do have excellent digital strategies, interact very well with contemporary artists and young learners. For example, the V&A makes its collections available high resolution and provides very rich resources, such as design workshops online. It has been innovative in user generated content, and supporting creative people to be inspired by collections. For example, they devised Creative Spaces, which allows you to create notebooks and social groups around artworks gathered from nine national museums and galleries, and to share your own creative work in response. (I was going to speak about this, as it’s being revamped and relaunched, but this has been delayed.)
And another example of better practice is Recreative: a collaboration between the major art galleries across London (Tate, Hayward, Whitechapel, South London and so on) and funded by Louis Vuitton. We were involved in scoping it, working with young artists (from 11 years old). It’s very much led by them. They edit it, share their creative projects, review exhibitions and develop new ideas for the site. It allows young artists to interact with curators and mature artists with a very egalitarian spirit.
I particularly like the Project Briefs – challenges by the young artists to other young people to do art projects and share them on the website. It’s very new but it’s already thriving, full of ideas and images.
This isn’t a niche set of practices. This is an inadequate way to describe the essential shift in cultural practice, ways that environmental catastrophe can be not so much averted (because it’s happening already), but so that we can enable the survival of some humans on the planet.
What can they learn from and work with? There’s a multitude of online platforms that enable these kinds of practice. For example, many that support sharing knowledge and creative resources between design activists. (This example is the group called Social Space. I have long lists of many more.) But these many platforms are too niche and not as effective as they could be. They need to be powered by high profile artists and designers, by cultural brands, by the collections and archives of art museums. Museums need to stop thinking in terms of putting on one exhibition after another and using the web to promote them, but to devise the most powerful way they can put their assets to use.
They also need to put their collections, knowledge and learning resources into Open Learning Environments, like the Billion Kids Library and many others. They have to stop thinking about serving just their localities or nations but people across the planet (and not just the jet set tourists).
And they need to promote and support action, to follow the example of many projects that are using the web to crowdsource people’s time through micro-actions, like this one called Good. (I’m also involved in developing a system that makes use of mobile networks used by people across the developing world, called The Age of Smart.) But forging links between the world I know well, art and museums, and the world of social activism, is very difficult. Lots of museums of science and natural history museums are starting to get good at this, for example supporting mobile apps for monitoring biodiversity. But museums of contemporary art and design need to start pulling at the rope too.
Thank you for listening. I’m interested in your ideas on how this change could happen.
Bridget McKenzie slides for isea2011
Art & Design Museums Online Good, but not good enough<br />Bridget McKenzie<br />ISEA, 2011<br />