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What more can museums do for us?! Hmm… what more can we do for them?

On Monday I was very happy to be part of an “un-conference” (think conference with no formal agenda) called Museum Camp held in Birmingham at this industrial heritage canalside gorgeousness (left), where museum people from all over Britain congregated to discuss a whole host of museum related matters. As we all know one of my favourite things about museums are the fantastic people behind them and being in a room with so many who cared so much about sharing their collections, well, that for me was excitomondo my friends.

There were a variety of workshops and informal discussion groups going on all day which you could join and listen to or get right involved in if you wanted to. One of the topics discussed in a few of the seminars centred around how best to use technology in museums, how to ride the wave of this information age, whether to share collections online and the different digital means for audiences to enjoy collections in many different ways. I was very interested in these discussions because it seems to be an ongoing and worrying thing for museum curators to always be looking for better ways to engage with their audiences, as though it is the full responsibility of the museum to lay on something jaw-droppingly amazing to win more visitors and if they don’t keep up they’ll lose them all; interestingly however the role of the audiences themselves wasn’t discussed at all.

To be fair, why should it be at Museum Camp? The role of the audience lies with the audience, most of you reading this blog in fact, the museum visitors themselves. At the start of this project I used to look for the “best bits” of everywhere I visited, I wanted to get to the most popular exhibits and get it all down on the blog, telling potential visitors what each place had that the others didn’t. However, I also used to come out feeling a bit flat. I realised that my engagement with the museum and my own personal experience of it was being pretty much overridden by the self-imposed need to get across what I thought I should be getting across to my readers – basically how the museum was presenting their collection. But I’ve been doing this project for a long time now (3 years don’t you know?!) and I’ve learned that because everyone’s experience of a place is different that this is exactly what should be celebrated, its personal and that’s the WHOLE point. Thus I put less pressure on myself to find the “best bits” and to just go and enjoy the place the way I want to enjoy it (it’s also another reason why I hate “bucket lists” and “top 10s”, there’s just no way such personal experiences and opinions can be the same for everyone can they?).

The upshot ladies and gentlemen is that while these museums and attractions are constantly trying to evolve with the technology of the day, showing us the best of what they have and finding “better” ways to engage us, maybe we also need to play our role in the museum experience – to remember it’s not just about waiting for the best bits to be delivered, but its also for us to find the things that resonate with us, to discover the personal thing that grab us everywhere we go. Try it – unsurprisingly peeps it usually won’t be one of the “best bits”, and what a joy that is…