Tim Svenonius' talk for Kickstarting Innovation, at the Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in Seattle Nov 9, 2012. Panel also included Liz Neely of AIC; Erica Gangsei of SFMOMA, and Don Undeen of the Met.
The spaces we inhabit have a profound influence on our emotional and psychological states. Because we work in museums, or those of us in this room who don’t work in museums spend a lot of time in them—we are well acquainted with spaces that are carefully engineered to promote a certain range of emotional experience.
Yet, we probably all work in cubicles, or in traditional office environments. These are pictures of the offices at SFMOMA.
The creativity Guru Tina Seelig says that cubicles were designed to emulate prison cells. I’m not sure what her source is for this information, but it’s true that they are tailored to fit one person who works in solitary confinement. A cubicle is highly inflexible furniture; it’s very difficult to adapt it to do anything besides its intended purpose.
More pictures of the offices at SFMOMA.
If you show an empty architectural space to an artist, their gears will begin to churn. They think, what could I do with this? But in order to transform a space we need some sense of ownership. Ownership of the space is what empowers us to alter and manipulate it. If you work in spaces where you feel you’re trespassing, you are more likely to be mindful of doing nothing destructive and not altering the space.
One challenge we face is how to work in new ways and begin to think in new ways within inflexible, non-adaptable spaces.
This is a picture of a work area at Stanford’s d.school. We have on occasion borrowed meeting rooms from local partners for things like brainstorms and retreats. And even as we trespass in someone else’s work environment, a properly adaptable space can be swiftly configured and just as easily returned to a previous state.
A poster produced by the san francisco firm DEGW describes optimal workspaces as a combination of individual spaces, collaborative spaces, and enclosed team-owned spaces. They and many other practitioners of agile methodologies advocate for furniture that’s movable and adaptable to different room configurations: desks that can be pushed together to make tables, versatile work surfaces, things which can be stacked and pushed out of the way, and so on.
They describe something called the Tinkerer effect—if the first thing you do when you begin a meeting is to arrange the room to suit your purposes, you’re already beginning to come up with solutions, and this can prime us for other kinds of problem solving.
but I don’t only want to talk about our workspaces—I also want to talk about public space. The case I’ll talk about unfolds over about six years. This is a corridor in the Visitor Education Center at SFMOMA. This photo was taken in 2003 around the time the center was first opened to the public. And this corridor leads from a lounge area to a small lecture room and a classroom further back. The Education center overall is a heavily programmed space, with lectures, films, family activities on sundays, school groups and so on. But there were two corridors like this one which were empty most of the time.
Over time, we commandeered these hallways to be our exhibition laboratory.In 2007 we installed an exhibition in the corridor. The exhibition, called A Hidden Picasso, focused on a work in the collection which was revealed in x-rays to have a completely different painting concealed beneath it. The exhibition was organized by a former SFMOMA conservator for the Guggenheim Bilbao, but there was no US venue for the show. Since the painting which was central to the show resides at SFMOMA, we displayed all the didactics,leaving out the artworks.
At the far end of the corridor the story culminates with a color digital reconstruction of what the painting probably looked like.
And there were many challenges here—these fabric walls which are great for sticking pins into, don’t bear very much weight. So it was a challenge to hang these lightboxes and run power to them.
The next year, an exhbition called the 1000 journals project was organized by Stephanie Pau, now of MoMA. For this it was imperative that the walls be resurfaced with drywall, to behave more like gallery walls. So we’d made the leap to displaying artwork, it’s just artwork that you can touch, interact with and alter. The project was conceived by a local artist/designer Brian Singer, who had distributed a thousand blank journals with the instruction that they’d be passed from person to person and come back to him when they were completed.
This installation told that story, showed hundreds of pages from the completed journals, and also allowed people to contribute by drawing in the unfinished journals.
A couple more examples: the red phone connected visitors to a voice mail box so they could respond to the question written on the chalkboard.
Dispatches from the Archives, also organized by Stephanie Pau, displayed a survey of exhbition and event posters produced by SFMOMA over a period of 75 years.Over time, you see a greater level of professionalism (or at least thoroughness) with each exhibition. Our graphic design department and the installation team have grown more deeply involved.
Finally, the most recent of these was ArtGameLab, which was organized by Erica, and which she’ll talk more about.So for about six years now, this formerly underutilized space has become the basis for a whole stream of programming that originated not from curatorial but from interpretation. We basically commandeered a couple of hallways to be our exhibition laboratory.If there’s a downside to raising the aesthetic level, it’s that now it is perceived as a serious exhibition space, and it’s no longer the exclusive domain of the interpretive team. When we started this process we were flying far, far under the radar.
My advice to you is to pay attention to any orphaned and unwanted spaces around your institution, and think about what they could become.
This was very recently an identical fire exit. Now it’s a space we call Write, Draw, Reflect, Share. Visitors are encouraged to draw things inspired by what they’ve seen in the museum that day, and leave the cards for us to post. So, We’ve taken an uncharismatic orphaned space and turned it into something that inspires people to create.
Kickstarting Innovation within the Museum - Presentation at MCN2012
Kickstarting Innovation within the Museum 3:30 - 5:00 Seneca RoomElizabeth Neely, Art Institute of ChicagoDon Undeen, Metropolitan Museum of ArtTim Svenonius, SFMOMAErica Gangsei, SFMOMA