On participatory activities in modern day museums

Something that each of these readings have brought to the forefront of my mind is outreach. Though it’s clear that some museums are making strides toward demystifying museum spaces and engaging in participatory experiences, I wonder how museums can successfully communicate to their desired audiences that they’re making strides toward participatory engagement. I think specifically of Simon’s preface to The Participatory Museum where she notes five common public sentiments of dissatisfaction: “Cultural institutions are irrelevant to my life. The institution never changes. The authoritative voice of the institution doesn’t include my view or give me context for understanding what’s presented. The institution is not a creative place where I can express myself. [And] the institution is not a comfortable social place” (p. iii-iv, 2010). In her TEDTalk, Simon mentions a number of really exciting opportunities for engagement that consider interactivity and ways to connect with self, others, and culture. However, while watching, I couldn’t help but wonder how outreach is conducted to spread awareness and push for involvement. I think that, for many, the idea of museums as capital-i Institutions is deeply entrenched, and for many marginalized identities is a lived reality that museums need to reckon with.

Further, I wonder how voices of community members can influence and be a part of museum programming and engagement. Personally, I believe that early outreach is key, and early outreach is even more important. If museums are able to hook teen, or pre-teen, audiences, they may become lifelong museum goers and lovers. Because of their age demographic, teens are a great leverage point to interrupt the perception of museums as institutional, elite, non-representative or inclusive spaces.

For museums to become “fourth places,” as Rozan proposes (p. 21, 2017), it’s critical to consider how best to hook new visitors and encourage disillusioned visitors to return. Though there is no clear and easy answer to this, Simon’s work of participatory engagement is a great start.