Smaller cultural institutions have the opportunity to become the lead commentators in contemporary society. The fragmentation of the media, and consequently of civil society, has positioned the museum brand as a credible source of information. Ross Dawson wrote in his blog that the media and the museum are both curators of content facing the same question: Should they control the information or should they open-up the editing process? By starting an online dialogue, museums can take the lead role in the community as builder, shaper and connector.
Museums, libraries and galleries should use digital media alongside its exhibition space to help it build and engage a community. Through online discussion forums, social networking, open-source and other Web 2.0 applications, an institution can listen to its community and reflect civil society’s needs in its public program.
Samuel W. Shogren, of the Washington County Historical Society, argues in The Informal Learning Review No. 92 (Sep / Oct 2008) that small cultural institutions have a significant role in place making and influencing social change for three reasons:
- Museums operating from smaller facilities, rather than large temple-like buildings, can be more responsive to change within the community;
- Smaller institutions are able hold exhibitions and programs reflecting the issues facing civil society;
- Curators and exhibition designers could set up exhibitions in locations reflecting their content. This could open-up possibilities for community involvement in shaping the story for the exhibit.
The role of the small museum is more significant than ever as it has the ability to reflect civil society. (Larger institutions will be slower to respond to community issues as there are more layers of bureaucracy to cut through.) The online and on-site communities need to work together to transform the museum’s traditional spaces into places where dialogue and education can occur. Here vital links between cultures and social groups can be formed, placing small cultural institutions at the centre of a community.