@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
  • Museums, the Past (recent) and Lessons for the Moving forward

    July 19th, 2017mardixonCulture, International, Personal, Tech

    Since the advent of the world wide web the planet has gone through immense changes, its transformed the way we communicate, read, buy our clothes, pay our bills, watch TV, purchase our food and find our news. No facet of our day to day lives has remained unchanged, this has been made more apparent in the last decade through the increase in portable tablets and smart phones. Not only now do we want information instantly we can have it wherever we are and via multiple sources.

    So how has this change in how people obtain knowledge and entertainment affected Museums? Well initially some might say not much. Many museums still have entrance fees, most still have exhibits and many have the same basic layout that they did since their conception – some since 1879. Does this matter? For some, who can weather the storm and guarantee good footfall and wealthy philanthropists, then no it doesn’t. For others, it matters greatly.

    Let me explain. The above changes were as a result of the world wide web, initially it happened relatively quickly, but not so quick that we couldn’t ultimately keep up. Gradually Museums realized they needed a ‘website’, so they had one made, as a ‘marketing tool’. This website sustained them for many years, as their contribution to their ‘online footprint’, then about the same time as the recession and the bite of austerity in 2008, came the uptake of the smart phone and the spread of social media which took Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from a playground for a few teenagers and geeks, to a mainstream form of media more popular than any newspaper. Now the world was changing again, only this time it was changing rapidly. Some museums embraced it, took to social media and realized quite quickly that this was an excellent source of engagement with public, others decided to have an app made; ‘A fantastic marketing tool for the smart phone generation’. Only problem was, most of this happened very late in the day, and in truth when most Museums came on board and spent thousands on their ‘apps’ the novelty had worn off, but then so did having a website (who looks at those anymore?), hell do you remember how long it took some museums to show a video! Some still do….on VHS!

    So, coupled with decreasing funds and donations, museums had to also contend with lack of strategic planning for the advent of social media coupled with decreasing footfall and a missing generation. The missing generation is important. In a very short time they will be parents, yet many of them have never been to a museum. Schools aren’t visiting like they used to, their funding has been hit too and trips are the first thing to go. Added to this many young people just don’t visit places themselves any more, they don’t get involved in clubs or groups – even Blue Peter (a popular kids tv show in the UK) has registered zero audience figures for one episode! So how do museums get through to this generation? How do they reach those young people that would be ‘switched on’, if they set foot inside? Well of course it’s taking the message to them, not waiting for them to come to us and find it for themselves.

    Whose fault is this lack of planning and future proofing? Well it’s not all the Museums fault. Every area of society is having to adjust, some more successfully than others. Newspapers are declining rapidly, shops are closing through lack of physical customers, banks have virtually disappeared in many towns and around 20 pubs close each week in the UK. However what all of these sectors have done is, or at the very least attempted, to reinvent themselves. Has the Museum sector? In some cases, yes, but I’d have to say in most cases, no. Apart from lack of planning the main reason for this is speed of judgement and approach. No longer can museum workers wait months for decisions or strategies to come from above. These cannot be decided 3, 4 or 5 years in advance, the world is changing too rapidly and potential visitors are being lost daily.

    Those potential lost visitors are both home grown and international. Any museum (outside of the ‘biggies’ in London and major cities) will tell you they need a bedrock of local regular visitors with the tourists on top. Yet many of those visitors now have a shorter attention spans; think about it, a website doesn’t load you go on to something else, TV show doesn’t grip you instantly you flick through 100 other channels, we know this, but are we adjusting to it in other areas? I used to say the public wants to feel something; they are expecting an emotive experience, something they can’t always get through a screen, but now I wonder if that will last, I’d say 3 years max before they want something else.

    Lessons we should learn from the last 5 years:

    • Prototype instead of going for permanent solutions. There are none. And when working a prototype – don’t let it take 12 months. We the public are completely content with rough and ready as long as there is a purpose!
    • Along the same lines, don’t take 10-12 months to make a decision then after 2 weeks say ‘it’s a failure’ because the public didn’t react the way YOU wanted.
    • Apps – are we still talking about apps? Like everything, some apps were amazing and worthwhile but others were done for the sake of it. I can see this trend happening with AR/VR now. It’s the new ‘make it go viral’ from management that we need to push back on.
    • Allow more input from the public. They are pretty good at knowing what they want and what they will support. There are no one answer fits all with this but communities will always matter. Decisions should be made collectively. There is no need for a class system within the hierarchy anymore.
    • Also please please, please keep the marketers away from social media. Remember that the clue is in the name – its social! If every time you chatted with a friend over a coffee they tried to sell you something, you wouldn’t have many more coffees with them. Do any of you use eBay? It started as fun place to buy and sell things, initially in 1997 for computer parts, gradually more and more things were auctioned, by a person to a person. Seen it lately? It’s totally taken over by commercial companies trying to sell new products. The novelty has gone, the originality disappeared, the enjoyment of visiting, looking and then bidding virtually wiped out. Why? Because it became too commercial. Museums on social media, like eBay to auctions, have the ability to destroy themselves.

    But if you still want that link to the past, and feel you and your institution should remain a bastion of steady culture in a world of posts, tweets and live streaming then remember even the Romans said; ‘Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis’ – The times change and we change with them. Worth putting above the door?

    What are your thoughts? 


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1 responses to “Museums, the Past (recent) and Lessons for the Moving forward” RSS icon

  • I wonder how different the attitudes and processes in museums are to old established companies that have been around for many years?

    The big difference though is that museums don’t tend to get wiped out by fast moving start ups and the changes in technology don’t seem to impact them quickly or directly.

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