Authenticity and what it means to our audiences

Lydia Johnson recently posted a thought-provoking piece at entitled ‘The A word’. It discusses the rise of authenticity in discussions at AAM this year. While I didn’t get a chance to be there, I wonder whether anyone was talking about Pine and Gilmore’s recent book: Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want

One of the points Pine and Gilmore make is that while audiences crave authentic experiences, in our contemporary times, we cannot assume they will equate them to the cultural sector. They suggest that we need to re-imagine our audiences and ask ourselves ‘why’ they would want to connect with us and indeed, what it is that we offer that is valuable in this age of instant access. As contentious as some of their ideas may be, I think it is incredibly valuable to genuinely ask ourselves what someone who isn’t in the cultural sector might get from connecting with us. Pine and Gilmore suggest that in re-imagining our audiences, we need to explore new partnerships and relationships with and through them.

I would add that it is broader than social media. While this gives us the tools to connect, the value of participation and the expectations of new associations are deeper and more serious concerns. I consider this to be an exciting time to be in the sector – a time when transformations in governance and guardianship have the potential to establish notions of authenticity for future, not just past or existing audiences.

11 Responses to “Authenticity and what it means to our audiences”

  1. 1 Tom Troughton May 13, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I have made it a personal practice recently to be even more congruent and authentic than I have ever been before. I think a dose of authenticity in business is just what is needed at this time.
    Tom Troughton

  2. 2 Angelina Russo May 13, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Well said Tom! Thanks for that!

  3. 3 May Lyn May 20, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Authentic learning is essential to ensure far transfer taks and deep learning. Thanks for the post

  4. 4 Susie Wilkening, Reach Advisors May 27, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Actually, in our research we have found that the museum-going public believes authenticity is inherent to museums.

    In one of our studies we asked visitors to museums specifically what authenticity meant to them. As one person eloquently put it . . . “everything.” (Note we asked museum-goers, not non-museum goers, who may or may not respond differently.)

    We posted some of the results to our blog last spring. You can find it at

    Additionally, we had a (much longer) article on the subject come out in History News last fall. If anyone wants a copy of that, please e-mail me at susie (at) reachadvisors (dot) com.

    • 5 Angelina Russo May 27, 2009 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Susie and thanks for your comment. The article you’ve attached details for is very interesting. I’m glad to see that audiences didn’t equate the use of technology to non-authentic experiences! I look forward to more discussion coming from Denver! Cheers

  5. 6 j trant May 28, 2009 at 1:37 pm


    David and i explored “authenticity” and its may facets in a piece for D-Lib in 1998:

    you might find it interesting.


  6. 7 Angelina Russo May 29, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Jennifer
    I know the report well as it was, along with your other works, some of the few pieces which I could reference during the early years of my PhD!! Authenticity, like trusted cultural networks, continue to be particularly important in our understanding of the value of collections and visitation. You might be interested in a discussion over at
    Are Museums Irrelevant?!

    Thanks again!

  7. 8 Stephanie Weaver June 17, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Hi, I chaired the AAM session on authenticity in Philly this year, and it was a hot topic! We had people sit in quadrants (for small group discussion at the end), and the historic sites section was full, while the children’s museum/hands-on science section was sparse. Interesting. We had someone from a historic site (who deals a lot with myths and misconceptions) talk about how they are dealing with creating authentic experiences in a living village. Our speaker from a science center talked about Pine and Gilmore’s book and how it related to them creating artifact-free exhibits (as they have no collections). Last, our art museum speaker talked about an installation piece that used the tools of anthropology to create a completely fabricated story line, artifacts, etc. that the docents presented to the public as if it were real (the museum did not tell the docents up front). This caused quite a backlash for them with the docents, and was the story that got the most reaction from our audience as well.

  8. 9 Angelina Russo June 17, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Hi Stephanie and thanks for the comment. I’m interested in the art museum’s project – how did they justify not telling docents? It sounds like a potentially risky strategy! I wonder whether you’ve ever come across The Museum of Jurassic Technology, one of my favourite museums ever. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit but have been fascinated by it for years! I think next year’s AAM will be in Los Angeles so I will definately make a trip! By the way, was the session recorded or twittered at all?

    • 10 Stephanie Weaver June 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

      Yes, we all thought it was risky, too, and brave of the museum to share their issues publicly with us. Well, they justified it by following the artist’s directive (and perhaps not thinking it all the way thru) and telling the public at the end of the experience via a website. Yes, all the sessions at AAM are recorded and available for sale but I can’t figure out where. Try You might have to send them an email.

  9. 11 Robin Boast July 15, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    There seems to be a confusion here between authenticity and authority. What seems to be mostly talked about here, and I wasn’t at the AAM session so I don’t know what was discussed, are questions of authority, and institutions of authority, not authenticity. The authority that people seek in museums, as was shown by Susie Wilkining and by Stephanie Weaver, is based on a consensual pact between the visitor and the museum that such institutions do not lie, that they are scholarly and that they seek reality. This has nothing to do with authenticity which is at best partial, biased and always under negotiation, but it does have a lot to do with authority which is culturally situated and based on communities of consent.

    To set the problem up as an argument between ‘authenticity’, which is always contentious, and ‘fraudulence’, which is only ever a consideration in cases of deception, is to muddy the waters. The question should be not “What is the role of authenticity?”. but “What is authenticity anyway?”

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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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