The Kinetic Museum

January 31, 2012

Old-ish Content Warning!

You are viewing a post that’s more than three years old. There’s a good chance that a lot of the following is seriously out-of-date (or at least not reflective of my current thinking on this topic). Proceed with caution.

Hey, so apparently I have a blog! Who knew? At any rate, it looks like I’m going to be speaking at this year’s MuseumNext conference (travel budget permitting) in Barcelona, where I’ll be joining Nancy Proctor, Nate Solas, Robin Dowden, Hein Wils, Ferry Piekart, and lots of other museum smartsies for several days of kicking presentations and conversations. I’ll try and fill this out in greater detail later, but for now, here’s what I’m planning on talking about…


How much of museums’ total overall effort is bound up in potential? How much time do museums waste defining “best practices” instead of simply moving ahead with a solution that just works? Because the museum as it exists today is still essentially built on the 19th-century model, changes in practice still tend to evolve over years, if not decades. In a culture that now evolves at web-speed, the pace of museums’ own evolution is fundamentally unsustainable, if not suicidal.

Digital and technology practice in museums has, like a jet plane strapped to a hand cart, been artificially grafted onto this ancient model, with checkered results. Technology has been used by museums primarily as a tool of efficiency (produce label copy out of our CMS, stat!) or of strained relevancy (participatory culture! gamification!), rather than as a foundational concept. But what if this weren’t the case? What if a museum’s overall practice were built outwards from its technology efforts, rather than the other way around? What would a museum built from the ground up for speed and agility, rather than stability and longevity, look like? This presentation will speculate on this idea by examining the possible evolution of museum practice from a number of perspectives, including (but not limited to):

  • Scholarship and Content Development: What would the equivalent of GitHub look like for scholarship? How could museums leverage the work of hundreds of thousands of curators and scientists working together towards a common repository of knowledge, rather than duplicating efforts from museum to museum?
  • Variable Media Conservation: Artists are inventing, implementing, and discarding means of creating works of art orders of magnitude faster than conservation practice is evolving. How can the practice of conservation change to accommodate web-speed innovation?
  • Constituent Software Systems: Collections management, digital asset management, development, and other primary museum software systems are generally built on a cataloguing paradigm, with distribution, publication, and collaboration tacked on as “premium features,” when present at all. How would systems built for action and outcome, rather than simply cataloguing, change the practice of museums from the ground up?
  • Staffing: Digital media teams tend to be a tiny minority on an average museum’s staff, even though they are responsible for the vast majority of the museum’s  interactions with the public. What would be the effect of inverting this model?

This presentation will pose many more questions than it will answer, but in so doing, will suggest new frameworks of understanding as attendees work towards building the museum of the future.

See you there, kids!


Of possible further interest: