Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Demos on Democratic Culture

John Holden from Demos recently released this report ‘Democratic Culture’ to explore what it is that we mean by culture in our times. The report establishes three useful spheres:the public, commercial and homemade. The public is that which is defined as culture through the act of being funded by governments, commercial culture is determined by the consumer and the homemade by the creator and/or community. Holden proposes that as these three spheres become increasingly interconnected and networked, the ambiguities between each is likely to increase. He suggestst that the reaction to this by those  who consider art to be ‘for an elite’ will be that they to try to maintain their power to define what art is by separating it from everyday life. This is probably not such a new thought; before the internet we found ways of defining high and low culture, particularly in the museum/library/archive/gallery sector. Kevin Moore’s ‘Museums and Popular Culture’ (1997) dealt with issues of interpretation and representation and focused on the paradox of the museum in attempting to maintain a distance from those cultural events which, in another time and another place may well be defined as high culture.

But this is not the place for yet another ‘divide’ discussion. Holden describes the impact of ‘exculsivity’ and ‘the cultural snob’, suggesting levels of expert skill and knowledge are relative. He proposes that the arguements which frequently break out between the ranks are in themselves a mechanism for ‘asserting exculsivity’ in order to  “guard the territory that they have mapped together, in order to keep the public out.” (Holden 2008, p. 20) Holden asserts that if we can begin to consider the demos as  ‘us’, ” a self-governing, enlightened citizenry, with the capacity to make judgements and decide questions” then three-way communication can develop.

The article is an interesting read and contexutalises existing debates quite well. Where it seems to lack punch is in a sense of the future. Recognising that there is a big gap between the rhetoric or access and audience expectation, I can’t help feeling somewhat worn out by the report. It’s not the fault of DEMOS. Perhaps it has more to do with a sense of frustration that before we can move forward, we have to locate the muscles that work together to propel us through space.

Musings on cultural organisations and tourism

I was recently at the Intercom Museum, Tourism Visitor Experience conference in Rotorua, New Zealand where a great program of events challenged some notions regarding the links between the cultural sector and tourism industries. I was particularly taken by Dame Cheryll Sotheran’s keynote ‘The designation museum’ and national brand. Dame Cheryll is the Director of the creative and tourism sectors for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. She led the development of a creative industries strategy in NZ and is responsible for the successful Better by Design program which promotes design integration for New Zealand businesses.

Dame Cheryll’s speech was underpinned by the convergence between cultural and economic industries and a holistic understanding of economic, social and cultural value. Here are some of the key points she made:

Economic development can be an incentive towards innovation and value-driven solutions
In a globalised world, economic development has new challenges and characteristics
– Decline in dominance of western economies
– Rise of new Asian economies
– New kinds of value and pluralism around cultural and social as well as economies
– Shift from production to consumption / market driven or value driven economies
– Value oriented consumption

This contributes to economic trends driven by consumer concepts and values, authenticity, climate change, sustainability. Additionally, there is a demand for immersive experiences, a breakdown of silos, and the new challenges of hyper-reality.

In this complex environment, Cultural organisations need to develop more nuanced response to experience economies. There is a big shift in the way experience is delivered – Innovation driven production is now occurring within increasingly converging markets such as sustainability , lifestyle etc. This is driven by innovation and niche-market design. It is culturally driven and is a point of difference

Cultural Organisations can led in this environment by – protecting, promoting, maintaining cultural difference. At the same time, there is a potential new role for design in this experience environment:
– Increasing design-driven innovation through
– Content ownership/ experience based industries
– Consolidating and looking at innovation in that market
– Value-based and driven solutions
– New practices based on collaboration

The next part of the speech centred on cultural organisations and tourism suggesting
– Experience and stories create value-driven demand
– Value-added memorable experiences can be combined with service industry
– Meta-narratives should be delivered with technical innovation and service excellence
– Integrity and authenticity, memorable approach

In terms of convergent experiences, she suggested that the following were areas of growth
Urban regeneration
National branding
Cultural value and distinctiveness
Destination branding
Non-collection institutions

Some of the tensions in this field include:
Local vs global
Collections vs content
Authenticity and authority vs market-driven experiences
Object vs hyper-reality

Cultural organisations can not dismiss these tensions but rather intelligently analyse experience and narrative to engage with a technically demanding audience.

Next steps?
Explore new approaches
Increased understanding of how playing an active role is an incentive
Understand value-based solutions
Leadership opportunities – new partnerships
Recognising the distinctive offering, value, heritage and narrative driven

Towards the end of the presentation Dame Cheryll discussed new forms of collaboration based on – scarce resources, scale, strong brands or consumer services. She suggested that cultural organisations had the potential to create powerful resource sharing to identify meta-narratives which link new partners together to offer value-driven solutions and experiences.

I’m going to spend a bit of time thinking about this important last point. My next posts will be speculations of what these partnerships might look like!

Design, innovation and cultural organisations

I recently found this article in BusinessWeek, “Art Museum as Research Lab“. It details an exhibition at  New York’s Museum of Modern Art (now closed) which presented new designs in data visualization and other disciplines. The show, “Design and the Elastic Mind,” featured 200 projects by international designers and firms.  The exhibition illustrated innovative processes in disciplines not usually associated with design, for instance in nanotechnology, as well as design for new markets in developing nations, and “three-dimensional printing” of physical objects directly from computer files.

The article is of particular interest because it places both design and cultural organisations in the centre of the innovation debate, something that rarely happens. I was recently at a Business Seminar at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum where I asked a question about the value of building new design relationships between cultural organisations and industry. While the panel responded with initiatives such as Proctor and Gamble’s ‘Connect and Develop’, the discussion stopped short of teasing out the potential of these debates.

I’ll be interested to see what happens in Australia in relation to design and cultural organisations. The ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation recently released a new paper SOCIAL NETWORK MARKETS: A NEW DEFINITION OF THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES where cultural organisations were finally considered part of both the innovation debate and the creative industries, but only when they were dealing with new knowledge. Additionally, design was added to the agenda all within the context of social networking.

As the exhibition in New York demonstrated, there are some real outcomes for design in collaboration with cultural organisations. I look forward to watching how this debate develops!

Converting user-generated content into cultural interactive physical experiences

I didn’t think it was going to be possible for a museumophile like me to be completely enthralled in an exhibition again. That was until I went to TePapa in Wellington, New Zealand last week!! 

Not only is TePapa an incredibly rich, complex and beautiful museum, it continues to be the single most popular tourist attraction in New Zealand – not a mean feat in a country well known for it’s extreme adventure possibilities!

Late last week TePapa launched the NZMuseums which showcases the museums and collections of New Zealand. This site aims to become a directory of New Zealand museums, and an online collection management system for museums.This initative will grow over time as more collection information and additional functions are added. Congratulations to the team!

While at TePapa, Wallis Barnicoat, Manager Museum Development arranged for a sneak preview of the soon to be launched ‘Our Space’ exhibition. And what an exhibition it is!! The space itself includes an 18metre projection wall where audiences can load user generated content and create their own creative works. Here’s how it works. You can visit the website, sign up and start loading your images online. The images are then transferred to kiosks within the physical space and are made available for audiences to remix as they desire. You can then buy your final artwork at the helpdesk or find your contribution online.

This exhibition brings the best of co-created experiences together in an impressive museum exhibition. It is a significant example of the conversion from virtual user-generated content to physical cultural interactive experience and we look forward to watching how it progresses once launched later this week.

Our Space also includes two other fascinating exhibits:
The Map – Images from all around New Zealand  and The Rides:

The Map includes a large floor map of New Zealand. As you walk across the map, images appear on the mirrored media walls around the Map, triggered as you move across the glass floor. Each time you step on a trigger, a new image of that region appears.

The Rides bring together the best of thrilling physical encounters with glorious images of life in New Zealand. Based on roller-coaster type technologies, the interactive rides situate you in front of a large screen which projects images of New Zealand as you fly, free fall, swim and skate across the space (while strapped into a seat!) Part theme park ride, part natural science documentary, the two rides are some of the most entertaining physical experiences I’ve had in a museum for some time. If you only go to New Zealand once, go and see these exhibitions – and make sure you go on an empty stomach!!

Thanks to Wallis Barnicoat for organising this special viewing. I look forward to watching the ‘Our Space’ exhibition evolve as audiences connect both physically and virtually with cultural content!

Authenticity and organisations

I recently came across Pine and Gilmore’s newest book, Authenticity: what consumers really want. Pine and Gilmore are well known for their seminal works on the ‘experience economy’, the notion that the development of experiences can provide greater value than merely developing products and services.

This new book delves into notions of authenticity, suggesting that a renewed regard for the ‘real’ is the result of three interwoven social developments:

1 – the development of the experience economy itself (with industries such as Disney and Starbucks at the helm)

2 – the idea that there is a demographic influence exerted on society by what are termed ‘baby boomers’ and ‘culturally creative persons’  as a whole, suggesting that the notion of ‘quality of life’ cuts across demographics and age barriers

3 – the idea that the reputation of insitutions is being undermined and that audiences need to re-develop a basic reason for connecting with these organisations.

It’s been a while since anyone tackled this third point in any detail in relation to the impact of online experiences in the cultural sector. In 1998 Jennifer Trant wrote an important paper, ‘When all you’ve got is ‘The Real Thing: Museums and Authenticity in the Networked World’ and since then, we haven’t seen alot of discussion around the issue. Last year there was a rippling with the idea of ‘radical trust’ but that doesn’t seem to have progressed much beyond those first few discussions – or perhaps it has and I’m not up to date – in which case please let me know!

I’ll be interested to see whether Pine and Gilmore’s ideas start to make their way into the museum debate. I’d also be really interested to get your feedback!

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!

About us

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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