Ross Dawson on the Future of the Museum

Round at Museum30.ning, Seb posted an article on Ross Dawson’s stalk on the Future of the Museum. You can read his notes here

What strikes me is the ease with which Ross captured the prevalent issues in the sector. This could be for a couple of reasons: perhaps because he is a leading business communications professional or it could be because to those outside of the museum sector, the issues are often blindingly obvious.

In museum circles, the issues raised are often discussed as though they had only just occured. The notion of the ‘media museum’ for instance, has been with us for a long while yet there continues to be extraodinary resistance to the idea of media technology being employed to create cultural interactive experiences.

Ironically, the history of museum ‘experience design’ includes significant examples of technological wonder, for instance: The Great Exhibition of 1851 heralded a new era of cultural event where Universal Exhibitions would define the progress of Western civilisation. The rhetoric of progress, so much a part of the nineteenth century, translated into a call to excel and be productive. Within the doctrine of continued progress, there was an implicit societal trust in technological and material advance. Exhibitions were useful mechanisms through which to display these social and political developments.

In our quest to highlight what is valuable and specific to the museum environment, we seem to forget that the communication of content has always been at the centre of the museum program.
Even though I research the museum sector and spend a great deal of time writing about technology, I am increasingly despairing of significant change while the sector itself (apart from bright lights such as work from Powerhouse and Australian Museums), as I listen to the almost deafening silence when it comes to considering the role of technology as central to museum communication.

The museum sector would do well to move away from a sense of its own importance to demonstrating the true value it can bring to lives. As cultural networks proliferate, the museum is ideally placed to lead discussion and debate, to create participatory media and develop the role of the active cultural participant.

Just as it carved out its role as gatekeeper, the future museum can become the leader of digital cultural communication, creating opportunities for co-creation between audiences and organisations by adopting representative curatorial practices.

Until then, it struggles with ideologies it seems to have created despite the excellent research and development that has occured over the past 40 years!

7 Responses to “Ross Dawson on the Future of the Museum”

  1. 1 Lynda Kelly May 23, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Nice post Angelina. Reminds me of another favourite Benjamin Gilman quote from 1918 – “To fulfill its complete purpose as a show, a museum must do the needful in both ways. It must arrange its contents so that they can be looked at; but also help its average visitors to know what they mean. It must at once install its contents and see to their interpretation.”

  2. 2 Don May 24, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Interesting and Thought Provoking.

    Thank You for a snapshot into the challenges of relevancy that museums face in a web 2plus world.

  3. 3 kachristen May 27, 2008 at 1:55 am

    It seems like many people are wrestling with these issues. I was just at a great symposium at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver where the discussion centered around the “public” and the new role of the museum specifically as it relates to new technologies/new media. A list of presentations <a href=”” here . David Bearman in his keynote was more optimistic about the future of museums and new technologies, whereas Darin Barney questioned the notion of collaboration and participation if they are only empty vehicles. Others (including myself) during the daytime sessions spoke directly to issues of Indigenous issues and new forms of virtual repatriation.

  4. 4 kachristen May 27, 2008 at 1:56 am

    Sorry about the misplaced html tags above! The link to the conference site is:

    -Kim (

  5. 5 nlablog May 27, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Hi Don
    Thanks for the post. Pyrmont Village looks great. It could well be a great case study for social media as the audience is large (and growing every day) and there is such a mix of historical information and contemporary need! It would be interesting to know how the site is going!

  6. 6 nlablog May 27, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Hi Kimberley
    Thanks for your post. The symposium at UBC looks like it covered a wide range of issues relevant to our research. It was particularly interesting to see the number of journalists who presented. The original post was inspired by the resistance to broadening communication practices within Australian museums. Through our research we are collaborating with organisations which have recognised that need and are looking at how they can use new media to create new audiences.

  1. 1 Why is there so much debate around the virtual and the real? « Social Media and Cultural Communication Trackback on June 2, 2008 at 1:01 pm

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This blog examines social media, cultural institutions and digital participation. It's based on the research projects Engaging with Social Media in Museums and New Literacy, New Audiences. Regular contributors are Angelina Russo, Lynda Kelly and Seb Chan


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