Openness, Inclusion and Participation in Museums


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This paper was presented in the Open 2009, International Symposium organized by Media Lab Helsinki

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Openness, Inclusion and Participation in Museums

  1. 1. Openness, Inclusion and Participation in Museums Mariana Salgado Media Lab- University of Art and Design Helsinki (TAIK) H ämeentie 135C (00560) Helsinki mariana.salgado@taik.fiABSTRACT [11]. I found his statement also true in the context of doing research on interaction design in museumsOne of the assumptions that some members of the because the designers and researchers in this groupmuseum community share is the benefit of opening the share the assumption that an open museum is an for new audiences and sharing roles of As a consequence it is much discussed how to designcuratorship together with these audiences. In this essay towards an open museum providing differentI unravel the background of this assumption and draw strategies to measure or describe audiencepoints for future consideration related to the idea of participation [17][3][10].open. Should we question the assumption that an openAn open museum is an ideal that seems new and museum is beneficial? Not necessarily, but arevolutionary, in the context of such traditional redefinition would certainly be good since the terminstitutions as museums. However, researchers in open is blurred. I do not propose to investigate on themuseum studies have long considered their openness in museums, but rather on some set ofcontribution as openers of new opportunities, but they characteristics related to open that can help to clarifyused a different vocabulary. In the museum opportunities for designers committed to a morecommunity, inclusion and accessibility are already democratic design process in the museum context.established values that museums pursue. Inclusionfocused on people and participation on practices. So, At first sight the ideal of open appears new andare we proposing something new while talking about revolutionary, specifically in the context of suchopen in this community, or it is only a way to update traditional institutions as museums. Researchers in thethe vocabulary? Thus, the main question of this essay museum field have been considering their contributionis what is the innovation that we refer while referring as openers of new opportunities already in the ‘70s,to an open museum. The answer to this question aims though they used a different vocabulary. For exampleto clarify also the assumptions that the museum in his seminal article “The museum, a Temple or thecommunity shares related to openness. Forum” [4], Duncan Cameron (1971/2004) proposed aspects of this openness that some researchers areI argue for the need to embrace inclusion and realizing today, while designing exhibition integratedparticipation as pillars that support the open museum with social media tools. He tried to demystify thenot only because these are already approved values, museum as a temple and propose it as a forum forbut because they can bring to the discussion around discussions. Cameron states it in this way:openness the necessary background and possibilitiesfor sustainability. It is in tracing the path from “In my view, it is clear that there is a clearparticipative and inclusive practices that an open and urgent need for the re-establishment ofculture within the museums will emerge. the forum as an institution in society” [4]. He goes further by saying “I am proposing not only exhibition halls and meeting places that are open toKeywords: inclusion, open, participation, museums, all, but also programs and funds for them that acceptinteraction design, accessibility without reservation the most radical innovations in art forms, the most controversial interpretations of history, of our own society, of the nature of man, or,1. INTRODUCTION for that matter, of the nature of our world” [4]. The issue of opening the museum as a forum forAccording to Thomas Kuhn (1962) “normal science, discussions is not new, but has at least 40 years.the activity in which most scientists spend almost alltheir time, is predicated on the assumption that the Furthermore, other researchers in the museum fieldscientific community knows what the world is like. have identified a radical change in museums. ForMuch of the success of the enterprise derives from the example, Gail Anderson (2004) affirms that there is acommunity’s willingness to defend that assumption” paradigm shift from collection-driven institution to visitor-centered museums [1]. In line with this 1
  2. 2. paradigm shift, museums have appropriated the need perform and take part in during a be accessible and inclusive to visitors with differentneeds. For example the museum association code of There exist many models and frameworks forethics states that museums should “consult and involve participation. In this section I refer to the ones thatcommunities, users and supporters” [13]. The code of have been key in design discourse or in the museumethics created by ICOM (The International Council of community. Participatory design approaches haveMuseums) states that “museums work in close been in the discourse of designers from the ‘70s,collaboration with the communities from which their onwards with the contribution of Scandinaviancollections originate as well as those they serve” [12]. designers and thinkers. The Scandinavian tradition ofInclusion has been used to address people, as I argue participatory design includes the user in a series ofin the following section. Therefore, for building an activities such as role-playing, games, mock-ups andopen museum we should consider aspects of inclusion simulations [7]. Pelle Ehn (1992) characterizesand participation. participatory design as a learning process in which designers and users learn from one another [6]. Participation happens through a series of activities and inviting users in many stages of the design process. Up2. ON INCLUSIVE MUSEUMS until now, only a few groups of researchers haveIn 2008, the first international conference of the appropriated the activities proposed by participatoryInclusive Museum took place. The same group of design and brought them to the museum scene to makeresearchers and museum professionals later created the audience participate in the creation of exhibitions fromInternational Journal of the Inclusive Museum. During the beginning of their concept creation [18][19].this conference, in which I participated, the largest Moreover, there are other modes and strategies forpart of the discussion was around the inclusion of participation explored in museums. Nina Simon, aregional or ethnic communities in the museum. Other pioneer in the museum community bringing issuesvisitors that were considered in the presentations were: around participation into discussion, analyses severalsocially disadvantaged, children/ seniors, out of reach examples in which museums implemented strategies(such as prisoners), far away, non-visitors, and people for participation. Currently, she has proposed a modelwith disabilities. These categories could overlap. of visitor participation [16]. She has beenThere were some presentations about making extrapolating from different contexts ideas for visitors’inclusion as a part of the museum platform (staff active participation in museums. These ideas go fromorganization and policies). Amongst the participants using social media in creative ways to implementingthere was a recognition that inclusiveness is about several analogical and simple strategies to motivatepeople’s attitudes. visitors to take part in exhibitions.Therefore it is possible to sum up that inclusion in the The work in museum around participation [16] andmuseum community is understood mainly to mean the participatory design focus on the question of how toattitude towards making different people participate make people participate, not defining exactly who areand be part of the museum community, by, for the ones included and under which roles. Theexample, visiting the exhibition. While inclusion has discussion related to inclusion brings to the front thatdealt with taking into account segregated or there are excluded people, such as people withmarginalised groups such as people with disabilities, disabilities and others, as I have presented in theimmigrants, and others, then open goes one step previous section, but does not stress the roles of thosefurther by eliminating the necessities of roles in a pre- people in the design process or during an exhibition.defined hierarchical position. This is where the concept of open brings something toThe open paradigm would help us to specify under the discussion. Open brings roles, in a non-what conditions do we include people and what hierarchical manner, proposing that everyone can havespecial process of inclusion for certain excluded the same status.people need to be taken in consideration during thedesign process. I would suggest that the wordinclusion could be included in the definition of an 4. DISCUSSION ON AN OPEN MUSEUMopen museum. This will bring the open paradigmproposed in the museum community, closer to the The paradigm forces scientists to investigatediscussions proposed by design for all, and other some part of nature in a detail and depth thatgroups that deal with accessibility issues. would otherwise be unimaginable [11]. At this point it is important to remember that the open paradigm started as a result of the collaboration of3. ON PARTICIPATIVE MUSEUMS virtual communities, such as the Free and Libre Open Source community. They have used a meritocracyOn one hand, inclusion has been used to address system wherein appointments and responsibilities arepeople, as I argue in the previous section. On the other assigned to individuals based upon demonstratedhand participation has been used to address the talent and ability (merit) and not pre-defined beforepractices, including actions and activities that people hand. This community were formed by people that do 2
  3. 3. not know each other, placed in different geographical methods, by building and adopting open sourcelocations and with different aim and goals towards the software and collaborating using open source models”general Open Source project that they contributed [2]. [5]. Another relevant example of this collaborationThese facts did not affect negatively their appears the online library of software modules forcollaboration. On the contrary it allowed many people platforms that exhibit developers can use andto contribute because of the open platform for configure, its name is Open Exhibits [14].collaboration and the open and transparent way tomanipulate rules. When these ways of doing are The rules for this openness have to be negotiated bytranslated to the museum, by proposing that the whole community, not only by the interactioneverybody, even people that do not come to the designer or the ones that are used to collaborations inmuseum, can create material on the basis of the digital platforms. The open paradigm forces as toexhibited material and their creation would be shared study in detail the tensions and forces that restrict andin the museum space, a lot of disagreement takes support people to collaborate and contribute in peer-place. This new practice, of opening the stage to other to-peer frameworks.voices, goes against the traditional impersonal voice of In this paper I propose open as paradigm to betterthe museum as the only one having knowledge on understand strategies used in the museum context.their collection and the only one that could transmit it. There is a need to embrace inclusive and participativeAt the moment, museums are one of the most trusted practices, as a way to include other members of themedia institutions in terms of the accuracy of the museum community and not restrict the discussion toinformation that they communicate [15]. Concerning interaction designers and researchers. To developthis issue, Sandell (2007) asserts that “the qualities vocabulary to talk about our work is part of designers’visitors attribute to the museum as a medium – agenda, though we also have to learn to relate thistruthfulness, worthiness, reliability, the capacity to vocabulary to already existent one in order to not‘tell the truth’ – and the potential for museum visiting isolate us from our design be an especially active mode of consumption, …make the museum a relatively efficacious and highlyvalued provider of resources within the mediascape” 5. REFERENCES[15]. Museum community highly prized this impartialand accurate information delivered by museums [8]. [1] Anderson, G. (Ed.). (2004). Introduction:This is one of the reasons why this practice of letting Reinventing the Museum. In G.others create material on the exhibition and share this Anderson (Ed.), Reinventing thematerial, is not install and spread quickly within museum. Historical and contemporarymuseums. Therefore, there is a need to communicate perspectives on the paradigm shiftand perceive the benefits that openness can bring to (pp.1-7). Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMirathe museum community. More and more projects are many ways bringing audiences to comment on [2] Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth ofexhibition material using different frameworks and networks. How social productionanalysing the result of this collaboration with the transforms market and freedom. USA:audience. 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Though the perspectives on the paradigm shift ( paradigm is not install in the whole community, 61-73). Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMirastill it is appropriated within the interaction designers Press.of the museum community [5] [6], which are all [5[ Chun, S., Jenkins, M., & Stein, R.proclaiming that their projects propose openness. For (2007). Open Source, Open Access:example Susan Chun and her colleagues affirm that New Models. In H. Din & P. Hechtone “unrealized opportunity for museums’ potential is (Eds.). The digital museum: A thinkto share not just their collections and interpretation but guide (pp. 135-145). Washington, DC:also their software and software development American Association of Museums. 3
  4. 4. [6] Ehn, P. (1992). Scandinavian design: On participation and skill. In P. Adler & T. Winograd. (Eds.). Usability: Turning [15] Sandell, R. (2007). Museums, Prejudice technologies into tools (pp. 96-132). and the Reframing of Difference. New New York: Oxford University Press. York, USA: Routledge.[7] Hofmeester, K., & Charon de Saint [16] Simon, N. (2007). Discourse in the Germain, E. (1999). Presence. Blogosphere. What Museums Can Learn Netherlands: Presence at the from Web 2.0. Museums and Social Netherlands Design Institute. Hooper- Issues, 2, Number 2, Fall 2007, Left Greenhill, E. (2000). Museums and the Coast Press, USA, pp. 257-274. interpretation of visual culture. [17] Simon, N. (2009, September 22). London: Routledge. Frameworks and Lessons on the Public[8] Keene, S. (2005). Fragments of the Participation in Science Research world. Uses of museum collections. Report. Message posted to Oxford: Elsevier. Butterworth Heinemann. Retrieved on September 24, 2009[9] Kelly, B., Ellis, M., and Gardler, R. (2008). What [18] Taxén, G. (2004). Introducing does openness mean to the Museum community? participatory design in museums. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (Eds.). Museums and Proceedings Participatory Design the Web proceedings. Conference 2004 (PDC 2004) (pp. 204-213). Toronto: Association for[10] Kelly, L., & Russo, A. (2008). From Computing Machinery. ladders of participation to networks of participation: Social media and museum [19] Watkins, J. & Russo, A. (2007). audiences. In J. Trant and D. Bearman Participatory Design and Co-creativity (Eds.). Proceedings of the Museums and in Cultural Institutions. Museums in a the Web 2008. Toronto: Archives and Changing Climate: Sustainability, Museum Informatics. Technology and Collections. Canberra, Australia.[11] Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, USA: The University of Chicago Press.[12] International Council of Museums (ICOM). (2007). Code of Ethics. Retrieved on 21, September 2009, from[13] Museums Association (2008). Code of Ethics. Retrieved on September 30, 2008 from ma/10934[14] Open exibits. (2009). Ideum and the Institute of Learning Innovation. Retrieved on 30 September, 2009 from 4