In the last few days a few articles have caught my eye not only because they touch on themes I explore in my thesis, but also because I feel they all dance around the same issues. These articles are:
- Shunning Your Customers on Social?
- How the internet is reshaping World Heritage and our experience of it
- How Corporations Harness — and Hijack — the Idea of the Museum
- Tate Director delivers hard line on the future of museums
First we have a report from Sprout Social indicating a gap between social media users and brands they interact with online, where users’ expectations are of a dialogue that is not reciprocated by brands. I wonder if this is the case for many museums and galleries, I wonder how many museums and galleries ‘walk their talk’ of using digital and ‘new’ media technologies to have a dialogue with their audiences — let alone democratize and decentralize their spaces/collections/knowledge?
Then we have an article from a postdoctoral research fellow in Australia who looked at how digital engagement with World Heritage sites, focusing on Sydney Opera House, has different purposes for those sharing references to the building and the potential effects to the site’s brand. On the one hand Dr. Garduño Freeman found six ways in which users shared their views of the site; six ways in which users attributed value to the brand through their online participation. On the other hand, whilst users’ engagement “helps to maintain [Sydney Opera House’s] iconic status” it also puts the site at risk through high visitation rates and its implications for conservation and management.
In the third article the word museum is implicated as a label that, according to the author, is being mis-appropriated by institutions seeking commercial gain. For me the article makes me question the definition and role of museums in our culture and society; it makes me question the discrepancies between capitalizing on embodied-experiential occurrences and spaces between ‘authoritative’ institutions and ‘non-authoritative’ institutions. It seems to me that corporations are maximizing on audiences’ new definitions of culture and of their expectations and experiences of such culture (e.g. see Culture Track 2017 report). So as corporations use the ‘museum label’ for these participatory experiences, and capitalize on them, what can museums and galleries learn from such corporations?
Lastly, in an interview at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Australia, Tate’s director Maria Balshaw discusses her visions (or predictions) for the future of museums. Mainly Dr. Balshaw talks about the importance of collaboration between institutions, the need to reflect gender parity within and throughout organisations and their programming, and her belief that technology will continue to drive different ways of engagement between audiences, visitors, and museums. To me, the most interesting point that Dr. Balshaw alludes to is that museums and galleries need to re-think how their organisations are structured and managed, in particular the role that technologies, and the effect of open collaboration, can have towards the future (and success) of museums.
These articles may seem disparate as each deals with a different topic and represent different disciplines. To me, however, they come together by way of thinking of museums and galleries as brands; brands that are in need of a re-evaluation of how they are perceived and what audiences and visitors expect of them. In particular, I see a need for a re-consideration of the role of networked audiences, visitors, and non-visitors who, through their active participation on social media, can have a large effect on how museums and galleries are valued. The implications of such a re-assessment would entail a different approach to brand management, organisational structures, and resource allocation, as well as strategies and policies (e.g. collection, exhibition design, partnerships, funding, etc…).
Borrowing from Dr. Garduño Freeman, I ask:
in our digital present and inevitable digital future, what role do/will people play in ascribing and maintaining the role, value, and purpose of museums?