Friday, July 28, 2006

Museums Australia Conference writeup #3


Image, Place, and the Future of Museums - Emily Sano
The boom in new museum construction, expansion, and renovation projects that peaked in the decade of the 1990’s shows little sign of slowing down. These projects have offered museums the opportunity to rethink their priorities and programs, and forge new visions of what they can become. This talk will examine the new Asian Art Museum at the San Fransisco Civic Center as an example of the kind of transformation we hoped to achieve in opening our new facility in 2003. The points to be covered are:
– Reasons to move out of Golden Gate Park
– The construction challenge
– New focus on collection galleries
– New education and public programs
– Budget challenges
– Public response
Despite a positive reception upon opening three years ago, the operational reality for the Asian Art Museum going forward looks diffi cult, and a new strategy is needed for the museum to survive and flourish. The museum has undertaken a strategic planning effort to address a new business plan for the next five years. Controversial examples of new museums raise interesting questions of value, cost, and public satisfaction. The talk will conclude with an examination of criticisms raised about the Museum of Modern Art in New York in an article in the New Republic magazine of February, 2006.

* Museum moved to Civic Centre in San Francisco – a library converted to a museum. Library space doesn’t equal museum space; the conversion was difficult, long (1966 – 2003) and expensive ($180 million US all up).
* Public art museum: their aims are collection care, education, reaching the Asian community.
* Culturally, no “Asia” exists – it’s a geographic term. The museum’s aim is to show the cultural differences and similarities through art.
* Special exhibitions tend to focus on classical/traditional art.
* Essential for a museum like this to have a conservation team with broad skills (dealing with a variety of objects like paintings, ceramics, etc)
* They have mixed funding: 1/3 public contribution, 1/3 city funding (this is always dropping), 1/3 earned income (from the shop, holding functions, etc)
* They need to build new and stronger audiences

Publications mentioned: “Arriverderci Moma” by Jed Perl – Feb 2006 New Republic Magazine)

Citing the City: Museum Architecture, Mapping,and the Tourist Gaze - Naomi Stead (Paper available here)
Nearly ten years after the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the so-called ‘Bilbao effect’ has been widely discussed amongst museum professionals, governments, and architects alike.
Within this broad discourse, much attention has been paid to the role of spectacular or iconic architecture in city branding, the promotion of cultural tourism, and the revitalisation of depressed urban centres. What has been less discussed is the way that architectural tourism itself serves to constitute the city as a kind of ‘museum’ of sights, spectacles, and objects, to be consumed by the tourist gaze. In this way, the tourist serves to reconstitute and re-map the city as a series of spatial urban artefacts, landmarks, and souvenirs, to be ‘collected’ in the experience of the city. In examining this notion, the paper will discuss the role of museums in shaping a cultural space and visitor experience, and the significance of museums within a broader urban fabric and milieu.

* Perl’s article: Attack on curatorial vision, and that it is tourist-friendly/”dumbed down”, and a poor view of the director
* Museum buildings transcending their purpose: the building becomes something of its own.
* Tourist maps – museums as landmarks, museum buildings as markers
* Iconic architecture makes the promotion of a museum easier
* The idea of the city as a museum, full of buildings-as-artefacts

Cultural Connections— The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art - Lindsay Clare (Paper available here)
Whilst the museum creates opportunities for multifarious cultural connections the character of the architecture can respond to the spirit of place and provide a framework to enrich visitor experience.
The theme of connection, physically and culturally, has been explored and developed, resulting in a building that responds to its function in a clear and uncomplicated manner: a building that interacts with its south east Queensland location. The building is simultaneously inward focused (art) and outward looking (city).

* “White boxes” (museums/galleries) as open and inviting versus “black boxes” (cinemas) as dark and intimate.

Stories, Identity, Ritual and Place – Alison Page (Paper available here)
A simple ring of rocks once marked a place of ritual and storytelling and is a symbol of a traditional culture in Australia. The land around it too has a story of it creation and holds clues to the identity of the people who occupied it. The places remain but what happens to the stories, the ritual and the identity of people? Like the ring of rocks, a museum is a place where stories are told, people come together and identities survive. This is the context for the creation of new Indigenous places of significance within museums, which continue to play an important role in expressing the identities of people from places whose stories we have yet to hear. The complexities of expressing the contemporary culture of Aboriginal people with spiritual potency will be discussed in the creation of a permanent Indigenous Gallery at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney called Bayagul (speak up).
Engaging people in a collection of cultural stories is the premise behind a travelling exhibition named Our Place, which has been designed to be like a nomadic Aboriginal camp, inviting people in to experience both traditional and contemporary Indigenous culture. Exhibitions can play a significant role in preserving culture but must also accept the responsibility of expressing its continuity. Questions remain as to how continuity is sustained and what role museums play for remote communities.

* Museums as both keeping places and gathering places
* The process is part of the story; there is not a lot of transparency in the process of museum curation/exhibition design, little insight into what goes on behind the scenes.
* It is possible to achieve protocol and connection with people in exhibition content
* Bayagul exhibition – celebrates Indigenous participation in modern art, and challenges stereotypes of indigenous art
* Sense of “reward” – the way that things are revealed in the exhibition, and “hidden” artefacts means that you get more out of spending longer in the exhibition
* Partnerships with community must be active and involved and allow input from the community.
* Connecting with communities during the process of developing exhibitions can create deeper meanings..

Cultural Places for a New Demographic - Sir Peter Hall (Paper available here)
New demographic is a term, still almost unrecognised in academia, that has recently come into recent currency in marketing. The underlying idea is that new markets are constantly emerging through a combination of demographic and lifestyle changes, and that sellers of goods and services must keep up with them in order to compete and finally to survive. Thus, an international market analysis company like Experian uses GIS routines to combine a variety of different data—census and postcode geographies, including electoral data, credit applications and court judgements by postcode—to subdivide populations into a bewildering variety of groups and subgroups or “Tribes” which often have only a very indirect relationship to the conventional socio-economic groups or classes which still form the mainstay of Census and other official statistical sources. These “Groups” carry names like Symbols of Success, Happy Families, Suburban Comfort, Ties of Community, Urban Intelligence, Welfare Borderline, Municipal Dependency, Blue Collar Enterprise, Twilight Subsistence, Grey Perspectives and Rural Isolation. They further divide into a bewildering variety of 61 “Types” ranked by wealth, ranging from “Corporate Chieftains” at the top to “Tower Block Living” at the bottom. These “Tribes”, located minutely by neighbourhood on maps, are then analysed to give clues to almost all aspects of behaviour, from purchases of consumer durables to voting patterns in elections. Almost every large consumer-oriented organisation uses such neighbourhood classifications as a key element in retail planning, target marketing, and customer management. They are likely to prove equally relevant in the planning of new cultural facilities and the reshaping of existing ones to meet new patterns of demand.

* “New demographic”: the emergence of new socio-economic groups that are defined partly by income, and partly by lifestyle
* MOSAIC – demographic profiling
* “DEMOS” study 2005 outcomes
- Different lifestyles use urban spaces in different ways – sometimes compatible, sometimes not.
- Urban spaces: conventional and unconventional
- Come up with types (of behaviour and of uses of space)
- Best public spaces are those that welcome different groups; must be co-produced with users
- Can’t just lay down a space and expect it to work
- Local authorities should conduct “public experience audits”
* Growth of pop culture has led to a merging of retail/entertainment
* Creative industries are becoming an urban economic base
* There are three kinds of innovation: one important one is the marriage of art and technology; culturally- Technologically Innovative Cities
* Next innovative wave – digitalisation, and the internet as basic infrastructure
* 3 kinds of cities:
- Established metropoles
- Favoured sunbelt cities
- Renaissance cities (reinventing, converting, looking for a new role)
* Cultural cities: part of the new urban tourism. There is competition between cities – if there’s too many players it’s all the same. Must build active creativity.
* Learning from creative cities:
- Passive vs active creativity
- Urban quality
- Cities can lever themselves upward
- Creative planning

Mobile Culture - Jeff Jones
Mobile and web technologies have become a ubiquitous part of the everyday lives of most young people as they increasingly play a vital role for social communications. However, mobile technologies have the potential to intervene in much more complex place-based relationships resulting in more dynamic experiences. This has interesting consequences for establishing connections between young people in cultural spaces that are concerned with the visual and intellectual relationships between people, place and artefact. Integrating mobile and web technologies provides a capacity to link people to artefacts in both physical and digital environments that are so naturally inhabited by young people. Interaction Design is an emerging field made up of many different discipline perspectives that enable us to exploit the common uses of mobile technology and certain features of video games to make place-based cultural experiences more dynamic.
A key issue for cultural centres is to make sure that new methods of engagement do not overlook the potential for content and technology to contribute to sustainable connections with young people. Equally important is the need to mitigate against the tendency to be preoccupied with the newness of the technology and its commercial possibilities. This discussion will provide details of how the interaction design process can be used to reveal social, temporal, spatial and cultural dynamics in order to design better visitor experiences.

* People have more control over their information and technology now
* How does our technology change our relationships with the places we go/interact in?
* Issues for museums: how do you integrate place/artefacts/content (web/mobile)?
* Mobility means being on location
* Participant observation helps understand what people are after in experiences
* “Convergence” of communication
* On-demand services have measurable impacts on visitor experience

The Cultural Frontline of the Sea Change Phenomenon - Virginia Rigney (Paper available here).
The notion of the sea change phenomenon that describes the shifting demographics of people from metropolitan areas to seaside communities has now entered common understanding—we have
TV shows, a Sea Change Task Force and a barrage of statistics and writing on the topic. The sexiness of the topic is wearing thin for councils struggling to meet strains on roads, water and health care and there is also growing awareness of a rise in social dysfunction and conflict in these communities. What is less understood is the potential and the need for cultural spaces as part of this new infrastructure picture. The Gold Coast is the oldest and fastest growing of the sea change destinations and our experiences offer insights into the new kinds of cultural models required for communities undergoing dynamic change.

* Public space (galleries etc) as inclusive and welcome; input into social capital, helps serve the need of people to connect
* Museum representative of place and community through the collection (in this case, Gold Coast surf/beach culture)
* Hard to travel exhibitions that are so focused on a local community like this
* Wonderful buildings for museums are not enough, on their own. What’s inside counts.
* No public gallery or city museum in the Gold Coast area. Very little cultural support.

Which Demographic? A Social Geography of Cultural Spaces in the City - Chris Gibson
Demography and social mapping are increasingly relevant to cultural promoters, museum and gallery directors and grass-roots arts organisations interested in identifying new markets, reaching new audiences, and reflecting the desires and concerns of local communities. Demographic topics have founded much debate, especially since the emergence of popular theories of the ‘creative class’ (a social segment attributed for much of the growth of creative industries, arts patronage, and inward migration and investment to cities) and their impacts on cities. This paper asks a key question of museums in light of this: to what extent ought cultural institutions hook their futures onto courting particular demographic groups perceived to be key to urban change, or who have important economic power? I will briefl y discuss statistics on recent demographic changes in Australian cities and regions, to argue a case for widening discussions of demography, museums and the arts beyond the much-touted ‘creative class’.

* “The Rise of the Creative Class” (Florida 2002): Key to urban transformations, investment, migration.
* New demography should be part of a chain of critical planning and reflection, not dominate it.

Concurrent Session 9A – Interpretive Space

Striking a Balance: Multiple Perspectives on Constructing Interpretive Space - Meighan Katz and David Priddle
An architect and an historian walk into a bar…they begin to talk about the construction of cultural space. The result is this exploration of ‘constructing space’, how should museums balance philosophy and practicalities when creating museum and exhibition space? What role does stimulating and well delivered design philosophy play in interpretation? Is interpretive design ever as important in a decision as function? How is a museum’s raw material such as historical sources translated into affective and interesting gallery design? How far can curators and designers collaboratively “push the envelope” and still engage audiences? Is design sense developed over time through environment and education, affecting what children and adults consider to be stimulating design? We aim to explore how constructed space is used to encourage audiences to ask questions, how it affects issues such as curatorial transparency and voice and for whom the space is constructed. Perhaps most importantly we discuss how audiences read space and whether the understanding of space is a challenge for which museums need to seek collaborations with other educational institutions. This paper originates in our respective Master of Arts research and out of informal discussions at the 2005 MA Conference. It seeks to combine our backgrounds in architecture and history with our curatorial experience.

* Information can be obscured with “overdesign”
* “Dichotomy of program” exists between art museums and artefact museums (Susanna Sirefman)
* Postmodern thought applies to both curation and architecture
* We should look at art museums for guidance in creating engaging spaces. Given a better space, designers don’t have to waste time transforming poor space, and can focus on the exhibition itself instead.

Body Hits: The Dynamics of Kinespherics and Interpretation in Current Museum Displays - Kit Messham-Muir (Paper available here).
This paper explores the importance of spatial dynamics in object interpretation in museums; particularly, it examines how the positioning of objects in relation to visitors profoundly influences the meanings and interpretations of the object. Current museum theory and practice mainly emphasizes the social and cultural contexts of objects; from the academic field of artefact analysis to the practicalities of significance assessment, we recognize the importance of narrative surrounding objects. With this emphasis on narrative, interpretation tends to utilize museum texts to provide conceptual frameworks for objects. Objects do remain important for most museums, but when it comes to their interpretation they tend to remain inactive, at the eye-of-the-storm, while interpretation happens around it. Objects can, however, have an active and pivotal function in how museums interpret them. And, importantly, that interpretation can be dynamic, even uncertain and provocative. When we encounter objects we do so within spatial relationships that are charged with meaning.
But, just as the meanings of objects are not fixed within time, neither are they fixed within space. From moment to moment, as we move within the space of an object, engage them within the kinespheric space of our bodies, our perceptions alter its meanings for us. This paper examines current examples from museums in Australia and overseas, in which the dynamics of kinespherics inform the interpretation of the objects, and reveals an emerging trend in museum practice.

* Simulacra; simulate, rather than feel.
* Objects themselves convey physical information that’s very separate to didactic information
* Touching an object gives so much information – not just cognitive, but situated in interpretive framework and the physical character of the piece
* Physical engagement is non-linear
* We move around objects and engage with them in space; touch is only one aspect of this.
* “Kinesphere” is our lived space, our personal space, the space we feel physically and emotionally.
* Physical encounters are meaningful because of conveyed meaning, by what we feel, “encountered signs”
* Communication using objects is not just cognitive but also affective
* Intense moments are what drag us in.

Concurrent Session 6A: Indigenous Interests

Discovering Indigenous Intangible Culture in Canada and the USA - Lori Richardson
I have recently been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to undertake a research project into Indigenous Intangible Culture. My project will be to research the ways in which Indigenous Intangible Cultural
Heritage is identified, collected, exhibited and preserved. My travel will include visits to, the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington DC, USA), the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Ottawa, Canada), the Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump Interpretative Centre (Alberta, Canada), various community museums and cultural centres in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (New Mexico, USA) and the Bishop Museum (Honolulu, Hawaii). I am specifically looking at the use of Indigenous language within the museums/cultural centres, storage and access to collections and Indigenous interaction with the museums. My research includes meetings with Museum directors, evaluation, public program and curatorial staff.

- $300 million for the museum (specifically designed storage areas)
- Community curators: information, stories etc provided by members of the community.
- Storage space facilitates communities interacting with objects. [No gloves used! Eek.] Large drawers with objects in boxes – little movement for the objects.
- Community conservation, renewal of objects – concern for authenticity/history of objects (similar to issues with rock art here)
- “Head Smashed In” Buffalo jump (Blackfoot)
- Native front of house staff as well as director and board
- Not just the location of the museums, but also consultation with community
- Public programs are prolific
- There is a need for a National Museum of ATSI culture in Australia, instead of being part of NMA. (This was a Keating promise for the ’92 election; Mulvany saw the idea of separation as cultural apartheid.)

(Google – “Lori Richardson” Churchill)

Concurrent Session 7B: Virtual Assets

Show off Your Assets: Victoria’s Cultural Broadband Network - Jonny Brownbill
The Victorian Government funded Cultural Broadband Network (CBN) is a technology-based tool that will connect major Victorian cultural institutions and provide Victorians, Australians and audiences worldwide with sophisticated access to their cultural content. The CBN will enable participating organisations to work effectively and efficiently with each other in the creation and delivery of programs that incorporate their collections, research and information functions. The CBN project has collaboratively developed standards, templates and metadata required to bring together collection, icon and story information from Victorian cultural organisations. Funding of “Digikits” for loan to community-based cultural organisations will enable them to digitise key components of their collections for inclusion in CBN programs. The CBN project will integrate and make available its content via other Victorian Government networking initiatives to metro and regional audiences, including education (SmartOne) and public libraries (VICNET). A wide range of CBN programs are already underway—this paper will report on their progress and provide a particular focus on community engagement opportunities, especially in regional areas as well as a snapshot of future developments.

* Cultural broadband network – functions:
- Online access to resources (rather than pare down for the web, develop something big and broad, then add to it for physical space)
- Collaborative content development
- Deliver programming to/from regional areas
- Facilitate shared corporate systems and services
- Work with other industries

* Content projects: online exhibitions/events?
* How can you measure if it’s all working/reaching an audience?

Creating and Maintaining Communities of Interest in the Museum - Angelina Russo
How can the museum act as a proactive leader in the development of communities of interest? The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (CHNDM) a Smithsonian Institution) in New York has developed two outreach programs which capture target audiences to build sustainable professional networks. CHNDM offers models for the successful development of communities of interest, in this case, educators and designers in the development of strategies for cultural content development and educational resources. The programs draw on the design collection and develop invaluable community knowledge in relation to design practice. At the heart of each program is the museum’s impetus to enable scholarly debate regarding the future of the sector. This talk is informed by a recent Smithsonian Fellowship which included the development of a strategic method for networking design professionals to each other, the museum and the wider community and the development of a strategy for building national educational networks and creating alumni within the design community.

* Digital cultural communication builds a relationship between the cultural institution and the community
* Creative Commons/Intellectual property

Online or Virtually so? Cultural Spaces Created for Children through Online Museums - Robbie Johnston (Paper available here).
Most online museum resources are provided by large well resourced institutions. Small regional institutions face particular challenges which this study aims to address. This paper outlines research exploring the pedagogical orientation of online and virtual museum sites developed for children. Through detailed study of the literature and of web sites developed by historical museums, the research seeks to identify lessons that can be learned by smaller institutions with a view to gaining greater recognition. By identifying critical features of participatory e-space, this research aims to contribute to electronic information flows from rural and regional Australia as well as from large urban centres. The paper also comments on and critiques the potential for online museums to promote unbounded communities of learning and enquiry as well as social inclusion. The uptake of online technologies is adding to debates about the pedagogic role of museums and their potential to fulfil their mission of greater visitor participation and involvement in learning through online interfaces. With the advent of digital technologies, it is argued that museums are taking a lead among institutions with an interest in promoting lifelong learning. Accordingly, there has been a proliferation of research exploring the development of online and onsite learning interfaces that are developed for children and adolescents.
There is considerable interest among educators in learning from online museums. Rethinking the role of museums in consideration of constructivist theories of learning and of changing views of knowledge has allowed the museum to move beyond an “institutional space of enclosure” and seek to promote greater social inclusion through participation in unbounded communities of learning. Through a detailed analysis of several museum web sites, this paper comments on the web contents that are available for children and contributes to understanding of what marks this rapidly evolving cultural space.

* Planning for kid’s learning:
- Tends to avoid contentious topics, perpetuating sanitised views of the past
- Fear of representation of difference
* How can the past be represented and be engaging without becoming homogenous?
* Soja (1996) – “The Third Space”; 3 dimensions of viewing space:
- Actual
- Representational
- Contested
* “Spaces of enclosure” – constraint through institutional learning
* Links to other stories, and people’s specific stories are important
* Create a vastly enhanced cultural space by not isolating certain websites/web projects from other stories etc.

No comments: