Museum Next 2013

John Shevlin #Museumnextsketch

I’m just back from Museum Next in Amsterdam, it was a really really good conference – coming less than a month after Museums and the Web I was slightly worried there might be a lot of overlapping presentations and ideas, but I was pleasantly surprised at how both conferences complemented each other. This blog post is a quick run down of interesting ideas and conversations that have stuck with me:

1. Be of and for the internet

I really like the work of N8, they are a marketing and audience development style agency that work with museums across Amsterdam . They have an interesting organisational model, all the staff are in their 20’s, and can work at the organisation for a maximum of 3 years. This ensures that they remain relevant to the people they are trying to engage. One of their key events is running Amsterdam’s Museum Night – this event is a key fundraiser for the work that N8 does throughout the year.

What really stood out for me was that N8 are both ‘of and for’ the internet. They not only created digital content, digital content and digital culture shaped what they program. They aren’t people who have studied ‘digital culture’ instead they live their lives online – they are part of digital culture. In their presentation they discussed how the Rijks Museum had opened to bikes for the first time in years the night before the conference – this was really exciting for them and Sarah Berckencamp made a video of her and her friends cycling through it for the first time. The video was shot on her phone after a few beers in the Van Gogh Museum, the production quality is pretty bad and she is screaming the whole way through it – but the immediacy of the video and the experience is what makes it valuable. It really takes someone that is ‘of and for the internet’ to see the value of showing a video with such low production value to a few 100 museum geeks. I loved it!

2. Adapt and Adopt existing models i.e. residencies

N8 talked about digital culture and bringing different voices into museums. One example they showed was a break dancer taking a tour of the Rijksmuseum and chatting about the collection in his own words (which, shock horror included swearing), and ended with him break dancing in the museum. Can we have more rappers and break dancers in residence, please? The idea of wikipedians in residence is still quite a revolutionary one for most museums – but lets face it, wikipedians in residence are not cool. Sorry, I know that might sound harsh. I do recognize the value of wikipedians in residence, but I think there is a lot of potential to utilize the long established ‘xx in residence model’ to engage with young visitors in more exciting and dynamic ways.

GIF maker in residence

YouTuber in residence

Geeks in residence – something Culture Sync have already done very successfully

you might get something as wonderful as this video which features 211 works from the Rijksmuseum collection

Javier Celaya suggested that museums should ‘host start up companies’ and talked about the potential to develop mutually beneficial relationships. Javier advocated hosting start ups that were working on areas that could provide museums with solutions to the problems that they are facing. I was interested in the idea of hosting start ups, but for me greater success would come by hosting start ups through a ‘residency model’ for example providing them with space for a couple of months and asking them to host a few training sessions for staff and or visitors. The residency model would be easier and quicker to implement – going down a partnership route, or hosting a start for a year or more would lead to difficult conversations around intellectual property and would be much more difficult to get up and running.

Museums have the potential to catalyst innovation and support the development of creative companies. It doesn’t have to be complicated, the residency model is pervasive and prolific because it works.

3. People not Technology lead

The most interesting talks for me were the talks about people not technology. There was a noticeable move towards ‘digitally mediated solutions’ at Museum Next this year, and a move away from shiny digital projects that had no lasting impact. Science gallery, Dublin and Dallas Museum of Art both exemplified this with a strong ethos of ‘visitors add value’.

Science Gallery *needs* visitors to make it’s exhibitions work the gallery has for example collected blood, sweat and stories through experiments as part of themed exhibitions – the data from these experiments have provided the grounding for key academic articles. Indeed rather than seeing participation as an end point, Science Gallery places participation at the core of its design process. They showed a really interesting process map that placed visitor engagement at the centre of their design process – I wanted to include a copy of it here, but I’m told it’s a work in progress – but I look forward to discussing it further when they do publish it.

DMA recently abolished admission charges and instead invited visitors to become a ‘friend’ for free. The logic behind this move is that Visitors add value. I actually didn’t attend this talk as I had heard Rob Stein speak in Portland a few weeks ago – this paper explains more about DMA friends within the context of business model alignment. I managed to have a brief but very insightful chat with Rob at Museum Next about how digital projects impact museum operations, in essence if the aim of your digital project is to increase the number of visitors to your museum then you have then you need to work closely with your Front of House department. It might seem basic, but actually its really important to ensure the success of your project – but also, and perhaps more importantly dreaming up digital projects that impact upon your business model provides digital departments with the opportunity to break out of their ‘digital silos’ and demonstrate the value of what they do across the museum.

5. Use what is already available

There was a lot of love for Google at Museum Next. From google docs to hangouts and surveys …. you get the picture. Why reinvent the wheel. If it already exists use it!

6. We won at Tumblr

Museum Next and Tumblr teamed up to run a competition to create the best ‘Tumblr’ we – myself, Mar Dixon and Claire Ross won with Immersive Serendipity

I actually really enjoyed this competition, I’m normally a wordpress kinda gal – but having a specified platform was really useful – it meant I had to learn. I’ve used Tumblr before – but learning some of the more advance settings at Museum Next was great, any time I got stuck I was surrounded by a couple of 100 geeks who could help. Through this competition I also learnt how to use another really interesting app Paper a drawing app for iPad. John Shelvin created a really beautiful Tumblr using drawings from it

I love learning something new – and having the competition run through out the conference was a lot more interesting than attending a workshop.


In the spirit of sharing I’ve posted my slides on slideshare my Museum Next presentation was based on ‘Museums and Digital Engagement: A New York Perspective

Museum Next was amazing, a great conference, well organised, great talks, good food, good people, good beer. Well done to all involved!

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