Last Friday I attended the Hot Science Global Citizens symposium here in Sydney and many of the presentations focused on the problems facing the museum world when it comes to branding itself in the digital age. The presentations made it clear that ‘Climate Change’ was a useful theme from which to approach how well – or not – museums were doing in communicating this contested issue to the broader community.
The speakers conveyed a clear feeling that museums were facing a crisis which demanded a redefining of relevancy, especially in terms of how they resourced current activities and reaching beyond the exhibition model currently driving most of their activities. Reflecting on the talks it also seemed discussion about change, adoption of new technologies, engagement of citizen-scientists and re-branding the museum focused almost exclusively on large museums.
This made me think that if large museums have problems with relevancy and are looking at redirecting funding resources to pre and post exhibition audience engagement, or reconstituting what a museum exhibition is, what did this mean for the hundreds of Regional Museums across Australia?
Already these often volunteer run museums are facing huge issues and my main concern is what will happen if these big institutions change the rules of the game without integrating their regional counterparts?
While larger museums focus on re-inventing themselves Regional Museums have been expected to navigate this new terrain with even less resourcing. Of particular concern to me is some of the current discussion surrounding the ‘end of material culture’ collecting by museums and its replacement with digital technologies, conversations, and interactive web-based projects. (see Stephen Ferber’s LinkedIn discussion ‘The end of material culture collecting – it’s here!’ and post by James Chung, Susie Wilkening and Sally Johnstone, ‘Coming Soon the Future’. Understanding how current technologies can affect the interpretation of museum collections is critical for smaller museums many of whom define the importance of the work they do against their collections.
There are currently many affordable web-based tools for changing museum models. These include Twitter or Facebook, Google docs, Wiki’s, free cloud based software tools for editing, managing collections, free websites, analytic software, and increasing online access to documentation and collections held across the world. But how are these tools being integrated into our Regional Museums?
At the ‘Hot Science’ symposium the final activity was a brainstorming workshop. Our group posited an idea for setting up a fund for Regional Museum staff to develop a travelling exhibition on climate change. In this scenario representatives of the winning entries would visit different types of museums (natural history, science, art) where they would work on a travelling exhibition based around a few objects from the museum but mainly focused on web 2.0 tools (Wiki’s, Google Docs , Dropbox, Twitter and Facebook). The final project would then be travelled by the representative, along with guest speakers (e.g. scientist, miner, farmer, and council officer), to other Regional museums to gather stories of climate variations, engage in debate and post this data to the centralized project site using the web 2.0 tools.
This would see skills and knowledge relating to new technologies shared as the exhibition travels. It could also have spin off benefits if more regional communities were engaged in citizen science projects to contribute to plant insect and animal identification in specific areas.
If there is any interest in developing this, or other ideas, I am happy to set up a Wiki or google group to help develop something more concrete. What do others think?