museum trends

Nina Simon: Creating the Participatory Museum


Since relaunching last summer, we’ve followed the blog Museum 2.0 with interest. On it, Nina Simon, a multi-tasking author, consultant, and exhibit designer, makes the case for making museums more visitor centered and engaging. In other words: Incorporate the kinds of participatory tools people are already using on the social Web en masse. Sounds like a no-brainer, but for museums it represents a dramatic shift in how visitors are defined; “passive consumers” are now “cultural participants.”

It’s not mere branding speak but a matter of survival. Over the past two decades, cultural institutions have seen their audiences decline as other forms of entertainment and learning have emerged. A 2008 survey by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts charted these trends; read it here.

“Visitors expect access to a broad spectrum of information sources and cultural perspectives,” Simon writes in the preface to her recently published book, The Participatory Museum. “They expect the ability to respond and be taken seriously. They expect the ability to discuss, share, and remix what they consume. When people can actively participate with cultural institutions, those places become central to cultural and community life.”

The good news? Simon believes history museums like ours (though we consider ourselves a history/city museum hybrid) are very well-positioned to make the transition. “As cultural anthropology has swung away from a vision of authoritative history and toward the embrace of multiple perspectives, there is potential for those stories to come from all over the place, including visitors themselves.” For us, this has meant turning a rather traditional arts and crafts exhibition into an opportunity to host DIY workshops and sharing the results online, and streaming images of Vancouverites and their bicycles into our exhibition on the city’s bicycle revolution—to name just two examples. Small gestures, perhaps, but part of a concerted effort to reflect what’s happening in the city in real time.

We’re constantly finding inspiration from the many incredible examples Simon uncovers. We loved the 3six5 project and theDenver Community Museum’s pop-up shop experiment (an image from it is pictured above). Way too many to list. On Wednesday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m., Nina Simon will join us via Skype to discuss her work, her book, and other great examples of participatory museums at work. Details on the event here. Hope you can swing it.

Image credit: Museum 2.0

MOVments from the week and what’s ahead (Fox, Fluevog & Friends launches one week today!)


This week’s round up of news and cultural happenings is rather museum-heavy; always lots going on as institutions prepare to launch their summer blockbusters. We’re no exception: Fox, Fluevog & Friends: The Story Behind the Shoeslaunches exactly one week today (one of the 150 pair of shoes featured in the exhibition is pictured left). The building is buzzing.

The quest for the 20-minute neighbourhood. Ever since last year’s feature exhibition Velo-City: Vancouver and the Bicycle Revolution, we’ve kept an eye on two-wheeled matters—news, ideas, design, etc. But what of pedestrian traffic as a city-making/organizing tool? The City of Portland recently unveiled a new 30-year plan for the city that introduced the concept of the 20-minute neighbourhood. “The idea? Simple: everything a person needs for his or her daily life should be within an inviting 20-minute stroll of home.” Key components include things like walkability, scale, density, and amenities like transit connections, schools, and parks. Most interesting is this: though Portland is held up as a model of progressive urban planning and livability, only one district comes closest to meeting this ideal. Wonder how many neighbourhoods in Vancouver would pass the test. (Portland Monthly)

Golden king = gold. This week, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario wrapped up their exhibition King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs reporting incredible and inspiring stats. Over 400,000 people visited during the 24-week run—47% of them first-time visitors. “Gallery memberships also increased strongly, with 12,450 new members.” AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum said they hosted the exhibition to attract a new audience, but admits the results were unprecedented. It’s also a sure sign that the boundaries between art gallery, history museum, and cultural space are increasingly blurry—all for the better. (Globe and Mail)

BC Place’s roof deflates, real story missed. The bubbled white roof came down on BC Place stadium this week, amid much chatter about the stadium’s future: “Why not tear the whole thing down?”, “Is a new retractable roof really necessary?”, “What benefit to stadiums actually bring to downtowns anyhow?” In typical Vancouver fashion it was all a tad… over-thought in the eleventh hour. Here’s an angle missed by both the media and PavCo (the crown corporation that oversees the place): As Vancouver bills itself as an efficient, sustainable, and all around smart city, shouldn’t we be finding ways to repurpose existing structures? Finding ways to make dated venues fit into contemporary uses? Extend their often all-too-short life cycle? (Read about the environmental toll of concrete production in the excellent 2002 book Cradle-to-Cradle; you won’t look at the ubiquitous building material quite the same way again.)

What a £20-million museum rethink and marketing blitz looks like. On May 28, the Museum of London will launch their Galleries of Modern London, the results of a three-year re-think of five exhibition spaces. (In London, the “modern” era starts from 1666 and runs to the present making the project all the more daunting.) I love the simplicity of their “You are here” marketing concept, which features off-beat archival shots of urban life over the centuries. Details on the project, plus a slideshow of the new spaces is found on the museum’s website here. Additional coverage in Marketing Magazine.

Image credit: Rebecca Blissett for the Museum of Vancouver

MOVments from the week


The local news and cultural happenings we followed this week—and what we’re up to this weekend.

Yet another take on cabinets of curiosities. During the four-month run of Ravishing Beasts—our feature exhibit on taxidermy—the blog looked at how the design world is reinterpreting the natural world. You’d be hard-pressed to open a shelter mag these days without finding some reference to this trend, or something about creating off-beat vignettes that go beyond books and vases and into the slightly macabre. An image of Patch NYC’s vignette from the French edition of Marie Claire magazine is pictured left. (Poppytalk)

“Radical Homemakers,” and “Femivores.” In advance of our fall 2010 exhibit on the local food revival, we’re tracking stories from here and elsewhere on the new breed of homemaker—namely, the new generation of people embracing self-sufficiency through gardening, bee keeping, chicken keeping, etc. This week, a New York Times Magazine piece looked at it from a feminist perspective, dubbing the proponents of this new movement “femivores.” Meantime, a just-published book entitled Racial Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture,looks at the trend in families and the focus on sustainability. (NY Times and Globe and Mail)

London’s Jewish Museum reopened to the public this week following a £10-million transformation that involved a move to an old piano factory and a tripling of their exhibit space. New interactive displays are designed to take visitors into the daily experiences of Jewish residents, right down to the smells of traditional cooking. (Jewish Museum London)

And a museum closer to home… We love this slideshow of images of a blue whale skeleton being reassembled for the soon-to-open Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC. Can’t wait to see this hanging in their new atrium soon. Look at those vertebrae! (Vancouver Sun)

Vancouver’s oldest school is slated for demolition. On Wednesday, parents, students and teachers gathered to protest plans to level a two-room schoolhouse next to Sir Guy Carleton elementary. The structure was built in 1896 but damaged in a fire in 2006 and has sat empty ever since, awaiting restoration. (Vancouver Sun)

And something to do here this weekend…We’ve blogged about it, tweeted about it, and the night is nearly here. Tomorrow at 7 p.m., we host a screening of the acclaimed documentary “Handmade Nation.” (Click here to be taken to the March 2nd blog post about it.) It promises to be a great event, complete with mini-craft fair by Got Craft? and a reception in our MOV Studio. Be sure to arrive early to view our feature exhibit Art of Craft, which showcases incredible crafts from local, national, and Korean talent. Happy weekend!

Image credit: Poppytalk

What are Vancouver’s museums collecting now? Two more perspectives from the ‘other side’


Here’s that post I’ve been promising—long overdue! Consider this the last entry on the collecting-practices talk we hosted a couple weeks back, where we invited museum directors from the city’s west side—what Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) refers to as the “other side”—to discuss their most recent acquisitions.

First, there was MOV’s Nancy Noble discussing the myriad changes we’ve made in recent months (a Q&A based on her presentation is found here). She also discussed the challenges of managing a collection that often reflects the “colonial wanderings” of Vancouver residents, rather than our new direction as a museum of Vancouver. Our name change wasn’t mere wordplay.

Then there was Dr. Shelton, who sees MOA returning to its “original principles” after wanderings of a different sort. When MOA was founded in 1949, the idea was to create a museum of world arts and culture. That’s the objective now, too. When MOA unveils its major renovation in January 2010, expect to see objects and ideas organized broadly by oceans, not continents, to underscore the fluidity of culture, spirituality, and philosophy.

Stories exploring the relationship between the world and Vancouver will be another area of emphasis. In collecting terms, this means a focus on acquiring or commissioning contemporary pieces, and efforts to grow the collections of regions currently under-represented, particularly Latin America, Europe, and parts of Africa. An exhibit planned for 2011 will look at beliefs between places and feature the work of 15 master-folk artists. Working title: Heaven, Hell and Somewhere in Between.

Dr. Wayne Maddison of the forthcoming Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC isn’t reshaping a history museum nor returning to a past vision, but rather, attempting to create a new institution from a collection of specimens amassed by university researchers over the years. MOV’s collection represents colonial wanderings; Maddison calls the Beaty’s an “accidental accumulation.” For him, the challenge is transitioning from neglected and varied collections to a consolidated public museum. Moving forward, they’ll be seeking items suited for display—specimens like the stunning blue-whale skeleton that will hang in their atrium, and, no doubt, be a major draw when the museum opens in 2010. We can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

What are Vancouver’s museums collecting now: Questions for MOV's CEO Nancy Noble


Last week, MOV hosted a talk with the directors of three Vancouver museums on the future of museum collecting. This posts offers a follow-up Q&A with MOV’s CEO Nancy Noble. Next week, we’ll look at the trends discussed by the other speakers, Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology, and Dr. Wayne Maddison of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

How have the Museum of Vancouver’s collecting practices changed over the years?
Typically, museums have collected a lot less, including the Museum of Vancouver. We have also put tighter controls over the process of collecting, which includes a Collections Policy and a Collections Committeeof board, staff, and community—that makes recommendations to the Board for all acquisitions.

Also, I believe we are being more considered and reactive in what we collect. It is rare that the Museum spends time or resources to actively collect, although I think this needs to change if we are going to amass collections of relevance now and in the future.

So, if I had something I felt was an important object from the city’s history, a letter, an object, etc., how would I approach the Museum about it? How do you judge or evaluate what should be a part of the collection and what you’ll pass on?

You would call the Museum and they would put you in touch with the Director of Collections and Exhibitions or a curator with expertise in the type of object being offered.

Typically, the curator would do an initial assessment to determine if the object was something the Museum was interested in collecting. That interest would be based on the criteria set our in our mandate, mission, and vision, our Collections Policy, and on the knowledge the curator has of what already exists in the collection. Given the limit on resources, if we already had a collection that illustrated or told similar stories, or had better provenance, we might not accept. In addition, we often don’t accept collections because they are too large, or we don’t have the resources to adequately care for them, which are also factors in determining whether something is accepted.

Once the Curator does a preliminary assessment, he/she would take a proposal to the Collections Committee and a recommendation would go to the Baord.

What are some of your favourite recent acquistions? Which pieces speak to you, or most interest you?
I love the neon collection. I know it is challenging for the curators to find space for, but it speaks to so much of Vancouver. I love how a sign off a building on East Hastings informs us of the changes to that neighbourhood, both past and present.

I also love the Stanley Park collection given to us a few years ago by Peggy Imredy. The postcards, for example, are a stunning collection that documents so many aspects of one of Canada’s national treasures.

Museums are incorporating multimedia into their exhibits and visitor experiences—things like podcasts, videos, Flickr photo sites and the like. Are such things retained as a part of the Museum’s collection? Is the very definition of “object” changing?
The Museum is retaining some of it, but like many things we are behind in keeping up with changing technology. I believe we need to seriously consider how much of this will be collected and how we will store and use the material. I am a strong believer that the ‘real thing’ still has a great deal more appeal to visitors, but at the same time, I recognize that we need to use these new media to help us make collections and their supporting information even more accessible to the public.

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