On distributed museums

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Nachschaffungszellen. CC-BY 2.0 image by Flickr user Maja Dumat

Museum hive event #1 is coming up!

“What’s Museumhive?” you ask? Excellent question. It’s an informal gathering of people connected with museums to explore new community-centered visions for museums. We intend to create a new hybrid structure, Museumhive, that generates socially relevant content through a series of informal, engaging meetups and Google Hangouts. Like a hive, the structure involves a community, members who come and go and take part in building the hive. Participation is wide, the barrier to entry is as low as we can make it, and there is a tangible outcome to the effort – digital publications all on the theme of “The Distributed Museum” — a museum that is distributed throughout the community.

The formula for Museumhive is pretty simple:

IRL meetup + virtual followup = 
fun & effective thought leadership.

You can learn more about the experiment at the Museumhive website and register to attend. You should also take a peek at guest speaker Nina Simon’s recent post on what constitutes good distributed museum experiences. Brad Larson, Museumhive PI, and I have been talking about this idea for a couple of years now, and I’m totally stoked to see how the kickoff event goes. It’s also encouraging to see Federal funding agencies like IMLS taking a chance on a project that at first blush might seem like a bit of an outlier. I’m a sucker for high-risk/high-reward scenarios. And figuring out a model for “the distributed museum” is a great one to tackle.

The ___________ museum

The distributed museum – one where the generative acts of the museum are decoupled from the edifice of the museum building – isn’t a new idea. Susana Bautista and Anne Balsamo described their vision of the distributed museum thus, “No longer located in a particular physical space, the museum extends its presence through virtual spaces on the web as well as in the transient spaces created through the diverse practices and technologies of mobility. The distributed museum exists ‘over’ the conceptual divides between physical and virtual, fixed and mobile.” Nancy Proctor has written about museums as distributed networks for years, highlighting their potential to be: “conversational rather than uni-directional; engaging and relevant, rather than simply didactic: and generative of content and open-ended rather than finite and closed” [Emphasis mine].  This idea of increasing agency by generating content is something Philip Schorch touches on in The ‘reflexive museum’ – opening the door to behind the scenes,“By revealing the processes leading to the definition of categories and the interpretation of identities, and by giving ‘faces’ to decisions made, the ‘reflexive museum’ can become an embodiment of democracy, which does not silence controversies but gives diversity public voices.”

I’ll confess that when Brad first pitched the idea to me, I couldn’t really grok what he was on about. I understood the concept of a distributed museum experience intellectually, but it conjured up no visuals. I’ve read Bautista and Balsamo’s works, and resonated with their injunction that “the distributed museum”, though often described as being distributed throughout digital means “is not limited to digital technology, even in the digital age.” I’ve tended to be skeptical to any of the formulations of “the __________ museum is…” that promise to fix whatever is ailing the creaky old edifice that is “the traditional museum”. There are a lot of them! The _______ museum could be connected, transformative, responsive, empathetic, participatory, reflexive, kinetic, or distributed. And I’m sure Twitter will continue to feed me more. And often, it feels like a case of curing the symptom rather than the disease. Our MCN 2016 book club book is all about that problem. Desi Gonzalez recently wrote in The Public as Producer “…when social issues are reduced to a design problem, we ignore the very real political and economic landscapes surrounding them.” A lot of what I read and hear in the field goes to great lengths to avoid situating the work we do in its deeply, intrinsically political and economic context.

Maybe I’m getting over it, though. Or the optimist in me is beating the skeptic. I’m actually becoming the skeptimist I aspire to be. I find something heartening and true in Museumhive’s focus on convening groups of interested to talk about what’s important to them, and then figure out a way to make things better. We’ll see what Wednesday night brings. I hope to see you there!

For further reading:
What Does a Great Distributed Digital Museum Experience Look Like?
Museum 2.0
by Nina Simon
http://museumtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/what-does-great-distributed-mobile.html

The Public as Producer
by Desi Gonzalez
http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/the-public-as-producer/

Understanding the Distributed Museum: Mapping the Spaces of Museology in Contemporary Culture
Susana Bautista and Anne Balsamo
http://www.museumsandtheweb.com/mw2011/papers/understanding_the_distributed_museum_mapping_t.html

The Museum as Distributed Network
by Nancy Proctor
http://www.museum-id.com/idea-detail.asp?id=337

“The ‘reflexive museum’ – opening the door to behind the scenes”, Te Ara – Journal of Museums Aotearoa, vol 33 (1 & 2)
by Philip Schorch
http://dro.deakin.edu.au/view/DU:30048374

Museum Design 2034: The Distributed Museum
Future of Museums blog
http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.com/2010/03/museum-design-2034-distributed-museum.html

The Participatory Museum and Distributed Curatorial Expertise
by Thomas Söderqvist
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00048-009-0010-9

Understanding the Distributed Museum: Mapping the Spaces of Museology in Contemporary Culture
by Susana Smith Bautista and Anne Balsamo
http://www.annebalsamo.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/museums.pdf

The Digitized Museum
by Brian Droitcour, William S. Smith
http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/the-digitized-museum/

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