This year I had two missions to accomplish at MuseumNext conference in Dublin: one was to hear about the latest examples of use of digital technologies in museums and the other was to meet new people and simply get inspired.
Unlike their previous conferences, which used to focus more on the digital technologies and communications, the MuseumNext team seem to have decided to broaden the appeal of MuseumNext and make a conference about museum management in general and move away from their initial focus on digital.
So, what are my takeaways?
We are all makers!
On day 1, I chose to get inspired and attend the workshop ‘If This, Then That’ by a charming speaker, Paul Clifford. Within the space of two hours, I heard about what makes someone a maker, makers’ ecosystem and where to find makers if I happen to be looking for one.
He then talked about some amazing projects he did with school children, from making interactive bugs inspired by the Victorian sewage system to the interactive WW2 posters.
I learned that at the beginning of the 19th Century ’making’ or what was then known as ‘wroughting’ formed essential part of the education, alongside literacy and numeracy, but has long been lost as time passed.
We had the opportunity to be maker’s apprentices and create a musical instrument in a Do-It-Together (DIT) fashion using MaKey MaKey, one of the many tools available to makers. By the end of the workshop, to my surprise, I realised that I AM a maker of some sort, as the definition seemed very broad and included everything from cooking to robot making. I came out of this session with a myriad of leftover questions:
Why is it that we talk about makers so much nowadays? What is the difference between today’s ‘makers movement’ and what radio amateurs, modellers or crafters did some decades ago? Is the main difference the move from a culture of DIY to a culture of DIT? Is it the sheer scale of this new type of ‘wroughting’ or the fact that our education today doesn’t focus on the practical, artisan work enough so people have developed new forms of self-education? Are we educating only for future employment not for the fully rounded human being? I shall investigate these further.
After being promoted into a maker for a day, on day 2 I was dropped into my comfortable audience research shoes by listening to Francesca Rosenberg’s talk about the Prime Time programme for older adults at MoMA, Dea Birkett of Kids In Museums talking about Takeover Days, and from the National Museum of American History, Susan Evans McClure focussing on Generation Y (aka Millennials).
‘A museum can provide good company,’ a participant in MoMA’s Prime Time programme
Talking about MoMA’s Prime Time programme, Francesca reminded me that older people tend to come to museums more often as they are the ones who have more free time than other age groups. They also tend to be more lonely than other age groups so they would like museums to be more socially stimulating. The elderly tend to be unbelievably social I seem to find.
She went on to talk about today’s older families which could easily comprise of a 90-year-old parent, 70-year-old child, 50-year-old grandchild and a 25-year-old great grandchild. Well, it’s possible, isn’t it? So, to attract and keep these older adults and older families, museums need to rethink their family offerings and marketing messages. Plus they need to make sure they provide enough seating.
‘We don’t like being called Millennials!’ Generation Y
Slouching teenagers also like to sit during their visits to museums. It has become usual to refer to the generation born between early 1980s and 2000 as Millennials. I hate the term. Unsurprisingly, Susan found that this generation also hates being called Millennials. Their research focussed on a series of events, American History (After Hours), targeting Generation Y. It turns out they ‘are just like real people’ who like authentic events and experiences and apparently, ‘if you don’t ask them to pay they don’t come’. Or, maybe this last finding is specific to the US only? As far as I remember, Tate Britain’s Late at Tate nights are always packed with generations in question even though they are free. If I were a museum I would not rely on these findings and start charging for events straightaway. It may just as well have the opposite effect.
Schools are a barrier to kids visiting museums, Dea Burkett, Kids in Museums
I heard another surprising facts from Dea Birkett, while talking about Kids in Museums’ Takeover Day, that 8% of school children end up not going to school trips because if they misbehave at school, the school would ban them from visiting a museum. Frequently, I think, the child can be the first person in the family to enter the museum (on a compulsory school trip, as was my case), then they make their family come back at a later date, and the child shows them around. So, ‘what are we going to do about that?’, she asked. I don’t know what the answer is, but she is asking the right question.
‘The 21st century will be the time of revolutions of institutions’, Deborah Culling, CEO, Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts
I just loved this quote from Deborah Culling, who presented the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts’ Market Street Prototyping Festival (MSPF), organised in August 2015 in partnership with the San Francisco Planning Department. It was an open-call project aimed to increase social interactions in a public space through community engagement using prototyping. The full report and a follow-up report is well worth a read.
What I sorely missed, and others have praised a lot, was Conxa Roda’s talk on digital transformation. Luckily, she uploaded her slides for all to enjoy.
And finally, I have to mention David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liverpool who used a really good analogy in regards to how museums change people’s lives. He said that he couldn’t remember A book that changed his life but that reading books definitely did. Nice one.
I came out of the conference feeling that museums must play an even more active social role as connectors and civic institutions. I ended up having loads of interesting chats with amazing people, as the MuseumNext was full of those. And, I loved it for that.
So long MuseumNexters, see you in Rotterdam!