@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Random Thoughts for Museums and Visitors

    December 28th, 2012mardixonCulture, International

    These are thoughts from different conversations I have had on social media.


    80514963-4538-4228-A154ECA6F7350EAEOutreach to the community. 
    Bring the community into the museum instead of waiting for them to come to you.  Many community groups  such as ones that work with elders, community volunteers, disabled, etc, are looking for different projects but might not feel cultural venues fit into their program or even know they are an option. Think beyond education and interpretation.

    Do NOT forget the Teens/Young People. 
    As many people may or may not know, we are creating Teens in Museums with founding members Milwaukee Art Museum, Museum Teen Summit, Smithsonian Ed Lab & Museum of London Youth Panel to help provide a portal for international venues to share both best practice and examples of projects that might not have worked but might work for someone else.  Trying and Sharing is so important.

    Stop running museums as a business. 
    Ok, they need to be run as a business but do we the visitors need to know that?  We don’t want to constantly be reminded that money is a forefront thought. Transparency is brilliant, to a point. A good example of how to be transparent:  Natural History Museum in London periodically shares visitor numbers via Twitter, but doesn’t follow up with running cost.

    think-outside-the-boxThink outside the box
    or as Adrian Russell suggested, CRUSH the box completely.  In October I had the honor of seeing how opening the doors and trusting people could make a huge difference when I attended MuseoMix.  Giving up a bit of control and allowing outsiders access to collections WILL provide a huge return.  Museums need to think differently in order for meaningful changes to happen.


    Museums and Art Galleries do not need to be overwhelming.
    Think of them as a shopping mall – you only take away what you need but it’s nice to know where other items are should you need them.  I’ve always had the philosophy that exposure was the key.  Learn one thing from every visit – not everything, just one thing.  I don’t even care if it is where the bathrooms are located or if the cafe sells cake.

    Don’t feel you have to look at the art/artefacts 
    Just getting use to the space and seeing it’s not as intimidating as you might assume is time well spent.


    How long should you look at a picture or artefact? 
    It doesn’t matter!  If you don’t like it or it doesn’t grab your attention, move along.  No one will snicker or roll their eyes or *tsk *  behind your back.

    Use Front of House for questions
    Seriously, those people that stand/sit in the corner are there to answer questions – not just to tell you photos aren’t allowed.  And they LOVE being asked questions.

    Social Media

    Both venues and visitors need to use it more for conversation and less for marketing.

    social mediaVisitors: 
    Social media is not to be used as a threat when one little thing doesn’t go your way.  You can not threaten to use social media just because one employee didn’t respond quick enough, or the que was too long in the loo.

    STOP using social media to SELL.  Be social!  Tell us why we should visit but interact with us when we’re there.  Be the eyes and ears for what we don’t see – go behind the scenes.  Ask us what we’d like to see. Ask us if we like cake, just talk TO us instead of AT us.

    I’m sure there are other items not addressed here but these have been topics I’ve noticed in the last few weeks.  What would you add? What do you dis/agree with?


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4 responses to “Random Thoughts for Museums and Visitors” RSS icon

  • All of these small insights are so obvious individually. Put them together and they are powerful. Use them and they bring you power.

    • Obvious to museum people but what about casual visitors/ new parents, etc? We mustn’t assume just because the museum community discusses things that it is being translated simply enough to the general public.

  • It’s an interesting set of observations and/or analyses, but I think it’s your notion of the museum ‘not’ as a business and around community outreach where there are the most immediate challenging discussions for me.

    I’d hope the sense of altruism, corporate values or mission would show that income generation was just a part of the mix, not the whole driver for a public sector and/or cultural organisation, or indeed it’s social media approach. Organisations are faced with staffing and running cost reductions unless alternate or increased income or fundraising is possible. I’d hope that commercial elements supported, not exploited or diverted, the core business, and it can be an art to get that balance right but it’s essential to try and to trial.

    As part of my Noyce Leadership Institute fellowship first retreat I was lucky enough to visit the Jacobs Center for Neighbourhood Innovation (http://www.jacobscenter.org/) in San Diego in June 2012, and there is nothing more powerful than community members advocating the necessity of the projects they are involved in prioritising or leading. The scale of transformation owes a lot to the $100m+ commitment of the Jacobs family, but ultimately its success is down to the altruistic engagement approach, active participation and the subsequent community usage and ownership that are very visibly seen and felt. Community Engagement has however always felt a challenge that as a national museum we feel the pull of so many audiences/stakeholders, and so that sense of community or outreach as a visitor attraction and science-based institution have varying geographical, political and socio-economic meanings. This set against a background of increasing visitor numbers and governmental budget reductions has seen us consolidate our engagement on-site and digitally, but as we plan for the next ten or so years it’s something we’re actively starting to explore afresh.

    I’ve read some interesting articles recently including about the Paul Hamlyn-funded ‘Our Museum: Communities and Museums as Active Partners’ project (http://www.phf.org.uk/page.asp?id=1125), about how organisations have to truly change their culture to cede authority and influence to visitors/audiences (inc non-attending or hard-to-reach groups). Other recent debates about whether and where such outreach, advocacy and engagement work sits in terms of core or grant-funded is interesting, and indeed challenging in relatively austere times. The opportunity for such partnership engagement normally has outcomes or a project brief attached (either with or to get funding) but the ‘Our Museum’ project is interesting in engaging and supportin a range of nine cultural organisations with adaptive leadership and organisational change challenges to build community engagement into/throughout business-as-usual. This seems a big shift and a real basis for some excellent and exciting lessons learned as small to national organisations work through this process.

    A lot of open-ended comments/discussion written in an ‘unofficial’ capacity as an enthusiastic developing museum ‘professional’ of 15 years. Good ideas and contacts always welcome!

    Ian Jenkinson
    @NHM_MusMgr / I.Jenkinson@nhm.ac.uk

  • Thanks for the thought-provoking insight. Finding a balance is the challenge and it’s incredibly customized to each individual cultural venue.

    It’s true that many involved with community groups do so with the *ahem* guidance of funding. What I am suggesting is instead of tailoring programs for Deaf or Partially sighted visitors, have them come in to assist with the program or even better, let them run their own program. Same could go for other non-typical visitors. It’s about opening the doors more to the different visitors, not about the funding (although I’m sure the additional football wouldn’t go amiss). It’s not always about working with the group – it could be simply to let them know the Space is available for them (and let them determine the best use for it).

    And you know I’ve always been a huge proponent of the brilliant work advocates provide. These should not be confused with volunteers (who also provide great and much needed services). I am loving the Community Engagement aspect – because it is very much that – Community.

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