Tuesday, 8 March 2016

WHAT THE TOP MUSEUM TRENDS MEAN FOR CANADA

MUSEUM INNOVATIONS

BY: JENNY FORD

It's finally here! Last week, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) released its 21016 TrendsWatch guide—an outline of the top museum trends to watch for in 2016. But how does the list stack up against Canadian institutions? Are we lagging, challenging, or overcoming these shifts?

1. THE CHANGING WORKFORCE

Quite depressingly, the first trend for 2016 is the changing nature of employment. Many full-time, permanent jobs are transitioning to a “gig” economy, the report states. In other words, more contracts and less job security, no matter what field you're in.

Man dusting T. rex nose.
The dream, right? Source.

It’s no secret this is affecting the museum world in Canada. Jobs are highly competitive and contracts are becoming the norm. Especially at this time of year, museum job boards are peppered with Young Canada Works posts and volunteer positions—roles that don't necessarily translate to positions after graduation.

The Ontario Museum’s Association acknowledges in their initial Looking Ahead Initiative that the workforce is changing, however it doesn't yet address what this new work will look like. The question is, should we be shifting our expectations about what is a museum job?

2. ACCESSIBILITY AND ABILITY IN MUSEUMS

Increasing accessibility is the next trend. Accessibility is not an "add on" but a thoughtful part of the total experience. While many museums have a long way to go in becoming totally accessible, some Canadian museums are making pretty amazing strides.

The design team at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, for instance, developed a universal keypad so visitors with visual impairments, physical disabilities, or hearing loss can adjust volume, have images described, or interact with touch tables in all their exhibits. Bluetooth technology also allows museumgoers with visual impairments to have text and artifacts described to them as they move through the museum. This is just the start of what our museums can do. 

Person looking at panel with universal keypad buttons.
You can see the CMHR's keypad in the corner. Source.

3. EXPLORING NEW REALITIES

We’ve seen augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) at museums before. Take the ROM’s Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibition back in 2012-2013, which used AR to bring dinosaurs to life. According to the 2016 TrendsWatch, AR/VR are becoming increasingly prevalent, so how can museums capitalize?

While the report does raise some concerns about VR replacing the need to visit museums, it also notes the huge benefits for accessing new audiences and experiences. The company Mobius Virtual Foundry created a VR experience which puts users on a bus as Rosa Parks, for instance. Other technology may let visitors manipulate and "touch" objects, further enhancing museum experiences and accessibility.

People try on virtual reality devices to see what it was like being on the bus as Rosa Parks.
The Rosa Parks Experience. Source.

The trend doesn't seem to have taken off in Canadian museums quite yet (please share examples if you have them). Either way, it’s something to watch for in an increasingly technology-focused museum world.

4. IDENTITY AND COMMUNITY


The world last year was moved by questions of race, culture, and identity. We are redefining ourselves and how others perceive us. As the TrendsWatch guide states, museums “find themselves enmeshed in the struggle over representation, identity and material culture.” This is just as true in the Canadian context, where these questions are at the forefront like never before.

There are countless discussions we could have here, but I'm gong to focus on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report released last year. Part of the report outlines how museums and archives play a role in reconciliation through education and deconstructing imperialist narratives.

Panels from the Balance Lost exhibit at PAMA, which looks at the genocide of Aboriginal Peoples.
The PAMA exhibition. Source.
Recently, on a visit to the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives, I was inspired to see how they addressed the TRC's the questions in their permanent exhibition We Are Here, even using the word "genocide". We all know this is a loaded term. Just look at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' experiences. But perhaps we need pay closer attention to how museums are (and are not) coming out of the shadows on these issues.

5. THE HAPPY MUSEUM

The final trend for 2016 is happiness. Yes, happiness. Really, this speaks to a trend where countries are moving away from measuring economic success to measuring citizen well being.

People int the Happy Show Exhibition
Stefan Sagmeister: The Happy Show. Source.

Museums can equally work off this idea. The Museum of Vancouver even brought in The Happy Show in 2015. Not only can we help foster this happiness and well-being through positive and enlightening interactions, we can also start measuring our own success based on it. It’s long been argued that numbers and dollars are not true assessments of a museum’s success—we can take a page from the happiness philosophy, as well.

WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON CANADIAN MUSEUMS TRENDS?

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