The 5-Point Museum Manifesto

After nigh-on six years working amidst the blurring of art, culture and technology, I want to put forward five key changes the sector needs to make.

And why? Because I want the rising generation of twiddle-finger, gadget-mad, attention-stretched young’uns to enjoy art and culture as much as I have recently. Because they’re being bombarded from every angle by organisations with more money and fewer morals. Because I’m frustrated by how slowly organisations in this sector move. And  because everyone loves a five point plan.

Entrepreneurs not Enterprise

Most institutions have an enterprise department and they’re usually run by ‘the suits’. (For the record, if I had a good suit, I’d probably wear one more often) But ‘the suits’ are out of touch with what it means to be enterprising in this day and age. Museums are not naturally entrepreneurial but have an increasing need to be. Not only for financial sustainability but to stay afloat in the battle for eye-balls.

Entrepreneurs move quickly, take risks and have the freedom to ruffle feathers. They’re proactive not reactive. With reputations at stake their activities don’t necessarily all need to unfold in the public eye but nor should their every action have to be justified.

TIP – advertise for a ‘Director of Entrepreneurial Affairs’ (or something snappier) 50% salary, 50% commission. Give them a budget (small), a deadline (18 months) and some targets (cash in the bank, bums on seats)

Producers not Curators

This point’s been made before. By no means are curators redundant (someone has to know the content inside out, upside down.) What’s important is that the potential for engagement with arts and culture becomes more sophisticated by the day. A trip around a museum is a rollercoaster of interaction; no longer just dissemination, but multi-way conversation. Only a few people truly understand how to create a dialogue in this space, how to produce an experience. Find them, hire them, borrow them to train your staff.

TIP – Hire graduates outside of the standard ‘Art History’ talent pool. Hire people that understand interaction design and technology. Train curators in user experience design.

Inwards not Outwards

Let’s talk long game for a second. Forget the Cloud, ditch the mobile, bin the Google Glasses (they didn’t suit you anyway) If you remove all the art from a gallery and every exhibit from the museum, you’re left with nothing but a building. An empty stadium. A bare stage…Put everything back and the performance can begin.

In the scramble to capitalise on the enormity of a connected planet, organisations risk overlooking what they have above most other sectors – content of genuine, startling, life-affirming substance that has all the more impact when experienced live, surrounded by other human beings.

A brief example – The British Museum invited Bastille to sing their song ‘Pompeii’ live at the Pompeii exhibition. The YouTube video was fantastic, in no small part down to the natural acoustics of the building. People wished they were there. Buildings bring people together. Buildings are the beating heart of an organisation’s empire.

TIP – Bring people together. Commission events, large & small. Invite artists in to reinterpret the exhibits. Make the most of your building, your community, the power of live.

Infrastructure not Apps

There’s more to life than apps. A whole new level, in fact, if institutions can provide reliable, fast, free internet in their buildings. If this isn’t already a priority it absolutely should be. Enough said on that matter.

TIP – Install wireless routers throughout the building. Hide the network from the public while you iron out the creases. Ditch all logon requirements. Free access. Prototype a location-aware experience. Iterate. Relax and eat donuts.

Don’t Panic, We’re Experts

No, not a shameless plug (though Thought Den do have some expertise…)

The arts and culture sector has a highly regarded, widely copied and thoroughly analysed ability to innovate user engagement. The sector isn’t necessarily the first on the tech bandwagon, but it is far from being the last.

Science Museum’s Web Lab, with Google, was fun, collaborative, envelope-pushing stuff. The institution has a strong heritage of playful interactives for younger audiences. Tate receives thousands of visits a week to their Tate Kids site, packed with forward-thinking ways to engage. The Exploratorium in San Francisco lets you dance inside a tornado! This sector knows how to lower the barrier to entry and get people involved.

Facilitating engagement with play isn’t new but as the gaming industry overtakes cinema and music there remains so much to be learnt from the way games designers optimise on-boarding, tell stories, reward their players and develop communities. There’s no need to panic, but there’s progress to be had.

TIP – Don’t let people feel stupid for not understanding, help them have fun trying. Leave gamification to the corporates but keep playing. You do it so well.

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