Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Help Build the Collections of The Universal Museum of Creative Matter!

If you got up right now and walked around your workplace/house/campus/neighborhood, what evidence would you find of small, mundane, creative acts?

Why do I ask? I never thought I’d say this, but I am starting a museum. About "creativity." And boy do I need your help

Yes, I’m doing this despite all I have written about why to Think Twice (or three or four times) before starting a new museum.

I hasten to add, there are mitigating circumstances. The museum is:
  • virtual
  • temporary (I think)
  • in the service of a Good Cause
Let me explain the last point first. AAM has been invited to join over a thousand folks from around the world in Oklahoma City on November 15-17 at the Creativity World Forum. The organizers intend to position Oklahoma as a creative hub of commerce, education and culture. This being so, of course they wanted to hear about the museums of the future!

I can’t envision giving a dry old lecture, with PowerPoint slides (shudder), at a conference on creativity. So Ford Bell and I recruited Erika Kiessner, an exhibit prototyper from the Franklin Institute, and Dan Spock, director of the Minnesota History Center to help shake up the attendees and make them take note of the vast creative potential stored in the museums of their state.

(You may remember Erika from the 2009 AAM annual meeting—she ran a pop-up, samizdat Advice 5¢ Booth in the Philadelphia convention center until security shut her down. Appropriate, as she was the winner of that year’s Brookings Creativity Prize. And Dan was, briefly, an exhibit developer for a real-world Museum of Creativity—which never quite got off the ground.)

So here’s the plan: we are going to spread the word among conference participants about the MyCulture trend that is rocking museums--people wanting to make, “mod” (modify), “mashup” (combine) and otherwise actively engage with content. As museum users, they want to be contributors and active partners, rather than passive consumers. Eric Siegel just wrote a great post at Museum 2.0 on this theme—sharing how the New York Hall of Science recently hosted Maker Faire, and how that experience is transforming the museum.

After highlighting some museum projects incorporating participatory design (e.g., the Brooklyn Museum’s crowd-curated exhibit Click!, or the SF Mobile Museum’s Looking for Loci), we’re going to lead an exercise in which attendees evaluate potential acquisitions for the Universal Museum of Creative Matter. They will be challenged to consider--what best exemplifies and explores the creative process? How can a museum “collect” and interpret creativity in a broad sense, beyond just the realm of art? How can museums enable audiences to layer their own interpretations of collections?

Here’s where you come in. We need proposed material for their consideration. So, we invite to contribute to our collection by going to the Museum’s new Facebook page and upload:
  • Text
  • Video
  • Photos
  • Links
Documenting material for attendee’s consideration. Make your pitch! Include a line or two about why you think this material is destined to be in UnMuCM’s collections.

OK, so this may or may not work. But that is a key part of creativity and innovation, right—the willingness to risk failure? But it’s generally more satisfying when it works-so give us a hand! And I’ll report from the conference on how this creative experiment turns out…

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Museum Eras*—Creativaceous, CarbonNeutraliferous, Developonian?

My last posts on “Futurism 101” talked about the sneaky nature of change, and the constant need to scan for signs of change that is creeping up or waiting to spring upon us. This post introduces eras—patterns in time created by the interplay of these driving forces. For a compiled introduction to futures forecasting for museums, download “Tomorrow in the Golden State: Museums and the Future of California
Two types of change—incremental and disruptive—interact to weave the landscape of the future. Typically, any field of endeavor (medicine, for example, or transportation) is characterized by “eras” that start and end with transformative, innovative change. Within an era, people experiment with variations on the era’s dominant theme and change tends to be incremental. An era ends when the next great innovative leap leaves the last dominant innovation gasping in the dust.

Here’s an example of an era drawn from the field of medicine: Alexander Fleming launched the era of antibiotics in 1928. His discovery of penicillin ushered in a century in which drugs could effectively target bacterial infections. After a slow start the pace of discovering new drugs took off and now there are hundreds of antibiotics. Now the pace is tapering off as it becomes more and more difficult to find effective new antibiotics and bacteria become resistant to our old standbys. IMO, Watson, Crick and Franklin laid the groundwork for the next medical era, that of gene-based medicine, when they deduced the structure of DNA in 1953. Old eras don’t die, they just taper off and cease to be the dominant force in their field. We still depend on antibiotics, but we no longer pin our hopes on dramatic advances in health on these drugs—for that we look to breakthroughs in gene therapy and nano-technology guided by genetic targeting.

Futurists watch the interplay of incremental and disruptive change, trying to foresee how change will play out, and at what pace, within an era, and (more importantly) spotting the early signs of the slow petering out of one era, and disruptive change marking the beginning of a new era. This is particularly important because new eras usually call for new strategies, and radical disruption of existing plans.

As a budding museum futurist, I’ve been working on this question for awhile: what are the eras that define the museum field? Here is one possible nominee:
The Era of the Blockbuster Exhibit—late 20thcentury

“Treasures of Tutankhamen” debuted at the National Gallery of Art in November, 1976, eventually drawing 8.25 million visitors as it toured the country. “Tut” spawned a museum-going frenzy—in Riches, Rivals and Radicals, Marjorie Schwarzer writes of people queuing up all night for tickets to the exhibit, camping to get a spot, and fainting in line. The huge impact of “Tut”, cultural and financial, shaped exhibition planning in medium to large museums for decades to come. With time, the downside of reliance on blockbuster exhibits became clear. The pulses of income and visitation were addictive, but not necessarily sustainable, and a return to more conventional short-term, in-house exhibits could look like failure by comparison. Museums that used the income from blockbusters to expand or staff up needed ever larger and more popular exhibits to support swollen operating budgets. Now the blockbuster era is tailing off (if not yet quite moribund) further damaged by the increased costs of shipping and insurance and the logistics of international loans. Blockbuster exhibits are still with us, but they don’t define the landscape the way they once did. During this financial downturn, the trend is for museums to draw on their permanent collections, digging deep into storage to create high-quality, if not quite so glitzy, exhibitions.

I could really use your help creating the Geologic Chart of Museum Eras! Describe a time period you think constitutes a museum “era,” kicked off by a transformative innovation, which (if the era is over) petered out over time, superseded by the Next Big Thing. Post here, in comments, or email me at And yes, I will draw up the results in spiffy colors and post it to the Blog…

*and before some smart-alec paleontologist jumps all over this—yes I know these are periods, not eras. YOU try making geologic puns about museums.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Alternate Future for Museums: Part I

This week, global brand strategist Jonathan Salem Baskin contributes the first in a series of visions about the future of museums. His book Histories of Social Media will be coming out later this month. Jonathan connected with me when he wrote this post about how cabinets of curiosity may hold the key to museum futures. Jonathan, a museum enthusiast, was very disappointed not to be selected in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s recent contest to find someone to live in the museum for a month. So if you have an empty diorama case you want to offer him…

I spend my days exploring ways for corporate brands to be more credible, meaningful, and relevant to consumers, and recently it occurred to me that it might be interesting to apply the same analysis to museums. I’ve convinced myself that I’ve seen an alternate future.

First, the caveats: I’m not an expert on museums, just a lifelong fan. No, it’s more than that: I’m kinda nutty about museums...I visit them when I have down time on business trips and I’ve read a lot about how they evolved from the curious collections of fellow nutjobs Athanasius Kircher and P. T. Barnum. My second caveat is that these observations are necessarily as generic as they are uninformed, so bear with me. Maybe these things are already happening and I’m just channeling it.

Here is the first component of my vision of the future of museums:

The Future of Content

The shortage of quality content for which people are willing to pay is as dire in my fantasy as it is in real life. Hollywood studios are signing development deals for movies based on children’s board games such as “Battleship” and “Chutes & Ladders,” and popular books and songs resemble one another evermore closely because it takes too much money and risk to create stuff from scratch, only to hope that people will be interested in it (this is nightmare reality, actually).

Conversely, museums are effectively sitting on infinite, high quality content, much of which is already desired by would-be visitors. In the cases of school-aged children, such knowledge is often required of them.

In my vision, this realization has changed the very premise of purpose for most museums, which have redefined their mandate away from a focus on “education” and back to the principles of entertainment and engagement that drove the curiosity cabinets on which they were once based. They’re less focused on telling people what they should know, and more interested in getting them interested in learning.

In this future, museums become transmedia publishers, recasting their content so, for instance, kids no longer have to wait for a sequel to “Jurassic Park” to get more about dinosaurs...local natural history museums are producing ongoing adventure programs that can be watched online, read about in books, and experienced real-time at their facilities. Art museums offer design services to corporations. Science museums are all over every grade school science fair, and then repurpose the content into webisodes of “Young Scientists.” Science and art history literacy are up, so is museum attendance, and profits, too.

A Vision-Starter

Here is a link that got me thinking:

• Imagine an exhibit conceived somehow like this

Next up, I’ll offer some thoughts on the future of community…

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Are Museums Going in the Right Direction?

As you may remember, at the AAM annual meeting in L.A. this past May, the Pinky Show joined the CFM to ask museum professionals what they thought about the future of museums. The Pinky Show cats wrote a report on what they discovered and Elizabeth shared her thoughts.

Now it is time to see some of what came out of those interviews. This first segment includes several museums professionals and a service animal answering the question, "Do you think museums are going in the right direction?"

Fear not, there will be more of these clips (edited by the CFM) and hopefully, someday soon we'll see an official presentation from those Pinky Show cats. Until then, enjoy.

- Guzel duChateau, AAM New Media Specialist and CFM Program Coordinator

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Backstory on Blobby

CFM’s recent post on natural history specimens as social media was wildly popular, attracting over 1,300 hits within one week. Given the evident fan base for Blobby (and Sue) it seems worth delving deeper into the story behind these internet stars. Lynda Kelly, Head of Audience Research at the Australian Museum, shares a bit of the backstory behind Mr. Blobby, and how he came to be anointed “spokespecimen” for the Museum.

The Museum got interested in social media very early on. An Australian Research Council Grant, New Literacy, New Audiences (2004), was the first where we started looking at delivering content to audiences across digital media. This project was also used to train staff to think about modes of content delivery and to develop a series of digital stories (Australian Museum Stories). The Museum then received a further grant in 2008, Engaging with Social Media in Museums, which enabled us to play in the social spaces of the web. We used this grant to experiment and test our presence in sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and learn together about what these spaces were like and how to engage our audiences within them. Parallel to this was the redevelopment of our website (since launched in June 2009) so the time was ripe for the Museum to work out where we wanted to be online and how best to achieve our goals and who best to do it (answer = everyone!).

Following the adventures of Mr Blobby has been a treat and a delight. Who would have thought that so many people could be taken with such an innocuous creature as a blobfish? One of the areas I am becoming interested in is the conjunction between physical museum sites and their online counterparts. We have (and will continue to) seen Mr Blobby as a way to connect with audiences wherever they are and somehow get them to actually visit the Museum. This I see is the next wave of what a museum should be – as George Brown Goode (a former Smithsonian Director) said “The people’s museum should be more than a house full of specimens in glass cases. It should be a house full of ideas”. Following this, I see the 21st century museum is a house full of ideas, yet at the same time a house without walls. Mr Blobby (and Gagali the Gecko and everything else we are doing in the online space) are small steps towards achieving that museum. More on these ideas will follow from various keynote speeches I am giving over the next two months so watch the Audience Research Blog and Museum 3 as I blog and post about my adventures!