Museums Are For The People. Can They Also Be By The People?

Industry · October 11, 2017

Museums Are For The People. Can They Also Be By The People?

It’s a discussion many in the museum world are having in this age of immediacy and entertainment. How can museums offer a compelling experience and still deliver the education and balanced perspective that the world has come to expect? Museums are thought of as pillars of education, truth and public discourse. In fact, a survey showed that museums are more trusted that local newspapers, nonprofits, academic researchers, and the U.S. government. They allow us to look into our past, learn from our mistakes, and find commonalities between ourselves and people who might not share the same views or who went through a similar experience in another time. Letting those values go is non-negotiable.

But where can museums afford to change? What will allow more people to feel more included at museums, to feel that they can participate, rather than be passive learners? What part of the grip can be loosened so that our heritage becomes part of a truly creative democracy?

There are all sorts of examples of this sort of boundary-pushing out there. Let’s look at a few for inspiration and reflection…

Is the Museum of Ice Cream a museum?

We wish there a place where curators and other museum professionals’ could post gifs of their first reaction to the Museum of Ice Cream. We imagine both expletives and yays. But the made-for-Instagram haven does beg the question: is the Museum of Ice Cream a museum? And if not, is there anything that can be taken from it?

Most of you have probably seen photos of the Museum of Ice Cream, if not on Instagram, in an article like this one. The cotton candy pink walls and look-how-much-fun-I’m-having sprinkle room are hard to miss. There are no exhibits or records of history. There is no interpretation. The Museum of Ice Cream is a series of rooms with frozen treat-related themes. Popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, and sprinkles are all represented. Pictures are encouraged.

If it’s not a museum, it is most definitely popular. The Museum of Ice Cream sells out in every city it comes to. It has over 37k posts on Instagram with famous folks like David Beckham and Beyoncé making appearances. So what can museums learn from this? People like having fun with their family and friends. People like taking pictures of themselves (Not all of us, but many). And to a certain extent, people like being able to create something that’s aesthetically pleasing. It’s a trend that extends into the museum world where institutions like the Tate are inviting visitors to co-create.

Text for Art – Innovative tech from SFMOMA

Of course, there are also those innovative uses of technology that make art accessible to anyone with a cell phone. Did you know that nearly two-thirds of people on the planet have a cell phone? More than half use a smartphone! The SFMOMA created an amazing tool last summer that allows visitors to text a keyword to 572-51 and receive a piece of artwork from the museum’s collection that matches the word. You can even send an emoji! Not only do visitors get to appreciate art whenever they’d like to, SFMOMA’s vast collection gets to see the light of day.

How can your museum make its collection accessible to people when they aren’t visiting and use more of its off-exhibit collection at the same time? The Hirshhorn had something to say about that.

Virtual Reality Brings Museums Everywhere

Earlier this year, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors made waves by offering the exhibition in virtual reality for their visitors with disabilities. Because of the way the Infinity Mirrors were built, visitors with disabilities had not been able to enter them. But, virtual reality changed that.

A virtual reality experience created to be experienced in the museum made the exhibition accessible to everyone. Virtual reality is a powerful medium in its infancy. We’ve heard of it for years, but technology has taken awhile to catch up. Filmmakers and artists are just starting to explore the new medium as a conduit for learning and storytelling. How could multiple storylines or the ability to do the impossible enrich your exhibitions?

One thing’s for sure. The evolution of museums is underway. With all the astute, witty minds (and bakers) in the museum world, the museums of the future are bound to be immersive, co-creative lighthouses of truth and civil discourse. We believe in you.