Thursday, 2 April 2015

INNOVATION VS. ACCESSIBILITY IN MUSEUMS

MUSEUM INNOVATIONS

BY: JAIME CLIFTON-ROSS

Dear Readers,

Today I share with you my final article for Museum Innovations. Through this channel, I’ve explored many topics: digital technologies; foodways; exhibition crowdsourcing; pop-up museums; interactive storytelling; museums and education, and much more. Because I’ve examined several forms of museums and their innovative practice, what better topic to explore today than the concept of innovation itself. 

Royal Ontario Museums: Extreme Museum Makeover, ROM 100 Speaks Lecture Series in front of dinosaur in main foyer of museum
Royal Ontario Museums: Extreme Museum Makeover, ROM 100 Speaks Lecture

On Tuesday night, I attended the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Extreme Museum Makeover event, which marked the end of their centennial celebration. Five panelists spoke at the event, including the amazing Nancy Proctor from the Baltimore Museum of Art, David Evans from the ROM, Adam Reed Rozan from the Worcester Art Museum, Joseph Loh from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and finally Peter J. Kim from the Museum of Food and Drink. Through a series of discussion questions, the panelists reflected on the role of museums in the future. 

Royal Ontario Museums: Extreme Museum Makeover, ROM 100 Speaks Lecture Series
Royal Ontario Museums: Extreme Museum Makeover, ROM 100 Speaks Lecture

While many ideas were tossed around, Nancy suggested that museums should focus their efforts on accessibility rather than innovation. This bold statement seemed to resonate with many audience members, as expressed on the event’s (trending!) Twitter feed. In doing so, she also stated that museums should not chase after innovative technology for technology’s sake. They need to meet their “community” where they convene and “speak with a local accent”. In other words, museums should understand the needs of their audiences and become a part of that community. They need to move away from the expert model and become a place where visitors feel a sense of belonging, acceptance, and ownership. Nancy also discussed how museums must play to their own strengths and not change the core of who they are. They must maintain authenticity.

After attending this lecture, I reflected on the concepts of innovation and accessibility and wondered whether it was necessary to choose one over the other? To make myself clear, I’m not trying to counter Nancy, in fact I’m doing the complete opposite as she inspired me to reconsider their functions within the museum framework. Of course these ideas are complex and have multiple meanings, and from what I understood, Nancy was referring to innovation through the lens of technology and new museum trends. However, I realized that many issues I discuss in my column actually amalgamate the two. 

Pop Up Museum with the Santa Cruz Public Library
Pop Up Museum with the Santa Cruz Public Library

For example, the innovative Pop-Up museum, which extends outside the boundaries of institutions and into communities (another concept with a multiplicity of meanings), is physically accessible and utilizes a participatory model. Or exhibition crowdsourcing, which encourages visitors to inject their own meaning and interpretation into museum exhibitions. Innovation therefore is not necessarily solely associated with digital technology. It can also signify innovation in community-building or the integration of new storytelling techniques that encourage visitors to express their personal connections with artefacts. While I’ve barely cracked the surface of this issue, I encourage you to reflect on these complex concepts.

#FoundBunny Tweet, Nova Scotia Museum
#FoundBunny Tweet, Nova Scotia Museum

I’m now going to leave you with what I believe was a simple, innovative, and accessible method of engagement that clearly made an impact on its audience. Do you remember #FoundBunny which made waves on Twitter last week? The Museum of Natural History in Halifax, Nova Scotia, embarked on a social media campaign to locate the owner of an adorable plush bunny rabbit who was left behind at the museum. They photographed the stuffed animal as it embarked on an exciting adventure through the museum. The rabbit ran from dinosaurs, worked on exhibitions, learned about safety in museums, made friends with a seal, and even hung out with a living turtle. Concerned (and amused) Twitter users took it upon themselves to help spread the word. This is a primary example of how this museum met a community where they convene and encouraged the public to participate in this initiative. 

#FoundBunny on an adventure tweet, Canada

Thank-you for your continued support and readership! I will miss you terribly!

All the best,

Jaime <3

P.S. Stay tuned for my official goodbye post next week!

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