Nina Simon’s talk on participatory museums convinced me of just how far visitor engagement at museums can leave a lasting impact on visitors. The exhibits that she created entirely with visitor input are concepts that I’ve only seen being tentatively implemented in more traditional museums, but these experiences can often be more conducive to extending the impact of a museum beyond the visit.
One main question that arose as I listened to the talk is how one might define a museum. Both the talk and the piece by Adam Rozan seem to suggest that as museums become more community facing, the lines between a museum and a library or a museum and a community center may blur. Later on in the talk, Simon partially answered my question as she describes how a museum uses objects, as opposed to perhaps books for libraries, as catalysts for conversations and social bridging. Yet as the purpose of these public spaces increasingly overlap, I still wonder whether there is some separating line. One main distinction that came to my mind is ownership. While libraries and community centers are funded and operated by the local government, most museums are privately owned. How this might play into the mission of a museum and how new ideas are implemented is something that I’ll be continuing to think about.
I also wonder how Simon’s vision of museums integrating into the social fabric of communities might be accomplished for museums of different scales. Community initiatives may be more feasible and impactful at the local level while fostering social engagement with strangers may be more of a challenge in museums that host international demographics. I was very touched by Simon’s anecdote about an artist and his baby interacting with several young women, but I wondered whether this story could still happen if the two parties spoke different languages for example. This brings up a question of how technology or different exhibition designs can be tailored to connecting different audiences.