Social Interaction and Participation in the Museum

GO, Brooklyn Museum,

You might think that incorporating digital technology and having a social media presence will automatically increase participation within the museum and awareness of the museum’s collection, but it isn’t quite as simple as that. The museum is a part of the community it serves locally as well as the  broader community that interacts with its digital presence. Social interactivity and collaboration within the museum is what many museum professionals are pushing for these days, but how are they doing this?

Nina Simon wrote in her book The Participatory Museum (2010), that museums should be focusing on moving from a “me” to a “we” experience for their visitors. These five stages help to explain what she means:

Stage 1: Individuals consumes content –> museum to me

Stage 2: Individuals interacts with content –> museum with me

Stage 3: Individuals interactions are networked in aggregate –> me & me & me & museum

Stage 4: Individuals interactions are networked for social use –> me-to-we in museum

Stage 5: Individuals engage with each other socially –> we in museum

Essentially what we can see in this progression is a Network Effect wherein individuals have interactions while a third party collects and connects these individuals and interactions and then the results of this activity is displayed back to those participating. This model can be extremely useful to museums that are interested in learning how their visitors are engaging with the collection and cultivate more meaningful experiences.

We have discussed in class and read articles on different approaches cultural heritage institutions are taking when tackling this issue of social interaction and participation in the museum. While many museums like the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA Friends) and the Cleveland Musem of Art (Gallery One) have introduced great programs and technologies into their institutions, the Brooklyn Museum has multiple projects and several exhibitions that have addressed what a museum can do in the twenty-first century.

Shelley Bernstein outlines several projects and exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum in “Crowdsourcing in Brooklyn,” a chapter included in the book Cowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage. In this overview, she describes Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition, Split Second: Indian Paintings, and GO: a community-curated open studio project. Obviously, this is limited to one museum and its vision of how cultural heritage institutions can active social interaction and participation, but the progression over several years can help us see how quickly things change and how to adapt on the fly.

Click!, as its subtitle indicates, was a crowd-curated exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum in 2008. The show consisted of photographs responding to a theme, “Changing Faces of Brooklyn.” This was the end result, but the interesting thing is the way in which these photographs were selected. The Booklyn Museum put out an open call for artists to submit their work and then allowed the digital community to vote and comment on the photographs in a online forum. Much like a juried exhibition or a curated show, the works included were meant to be selected based on merit. The inspiration for this type of crowdsourced selection process came from the book The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

Split Second, in 2011, was also inspired by a book, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. First, participants were asked to choose between two images, generated randomly, and encourage to do so in rapid succession. Next, they were asked to write about the images in their own words. Finally, they were supposed to rate the images with an unlimited amount of time to read texts and contemplate them Findings yielded data on positive/negative resonses, time spent comparing the two images before choosing, content, contex, and complexity of the imgaes, as well as the level of engagement participants felt. The actual exhibition consisted of the most popular and evocative images alongside infographics displaying the process of seleciton.

GO expanded out from the online community into Brooklyn. The exhibition was held in 2012, but the process of discovering and selecting the works to be displayed ran in 2011. The projecf was inteded to foster relationships between Brooklyn-based artists, the communities their live/work in, and the Brooklyn Museum at large. Over 1,700 artists opened their studios for two days and more than 18,000 people traveled Brooklyn neighborhoods to visit the artists and see their work in the studio. From this massive community and soical experiment, the Brooklyn museum then took the results of the audience and curated an exhibition featuring the top-ten nominated artists. Although the exhibition in the museum was met with critical and some negative response, this project exemplifies the power of the crowd both the real world and the digital one.

These shining examples of projects and exhibitions from the Brooklyn Museum have helped them become one of the leading institutions in creating environments of social interaction and participation within the museum walls and beyond. They explore diversity and indepence while give the audience a voice. Participation and social interaction are the future for cultural heritage institutions.

Reading list 10/19/2016
Christian Heath and Dirk Von Helm, “Interactivity and Collaboration: new forms of participation in museums, galleries, and science centers” in Museums in a Digital Age, edited by Ross Parry, 2010; pp. 266-280.
Nina Simon, “From Me to We,” in The Participatory Museum.
Shelley Bernstein, “Crowdsourcing in Brooklyn,” in Mia Ridge, Crowdsourcing our Cultural Heritage, Ashgate Publishing, 2014 [PDF of chapter available here]
Robert Stein and Bruce Wyman, “Nurturing Engagement: How Technology and Business Model Alignment can Transform Visitor Participation in the Museum,” from the Museums and the Web Conference, April 17-20, 2013, Portland, OR.

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