Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gifting as a principle for museum experiences

I was talking to Tom Steinberg the other day, the founder of, a community of developers who have made really useful social tools like Pledgebank, Groups Near You etc, oh, and I should mention the brilliant Freedom of Information site that lets you file information requests to government departments. Anyway, Tom made an interesting point that museums could promote themselves as much more about exchange or gifting, rather than a one-way experience where you are allowed in to see the great riches of the nation's heritage. It would be far more compelling, he said, if when we visit a museum (or museum website) we gain something e.g. knowledge or enjoyment but we are also invited to give some small piece of culture or history. I liked this idea, and since then came across the idea of gifting explored in sociological and web 2.0 terms by Nina Simon on Museum 2.0 She raises the question about how we can extend gifting to museums and culture online. It would be interesting to gather and share some examples.

Click, a crowd-curated exhibition

Brooklyn Museum is trying an interesting experiment in crowd-curation of a photography exhibition
Click has three phases: 1) A call for entries, now ended 2) A phase of audience evaluation, just begun 3) the hanging of the favourites, ranked in order of audience preference, on show in the Museum from June 27th.

The great thing about the process is that it is international - we are all invited to evaluate photos wherever we live, via the website. Many participatory projects about particular localities feel more exclusive. I felt motivated to try the evaluation because I knew that I'd be contributing to the curation of a real exhibition, not just adding comments onto something that will only live online. And inside many museum & gallery educators there's a curator wanting to get out, or at least there is in me.

I can see this kind of experiment taking off elsewhere. For more detailed commentary on it see the must-read Museum 2.0 blog: Nina writes about how the exhibition is informed by research into the power of the crowd and how the Brooklyn curators wanted to avoid evaluators being influenced by others. So, there is no visibility at all of anybody else's ratings. It's just you, and a sliding scale that you apply whilst keeping some questions in mind.

I spent half an hour this morning, merrily wielding the sliding scale up and down in instant judgement on 350 photos. Some of them were terrible. Some of them were mediocre. A tiny few were really quite good. (But I was quite generous in my ratings.) The only way to improve the quality of the photos submitted, and to discourage crowd-influencing and cliche in the images, is to repeat or extend the project and to enable plenty of critical debate about what makes an effective photograph.

Huge cocoon appears in Infant School Garden

I just got sent this mystery story:
The news report in Now Public (which is another story, crowdsourcing of news) is of a large white pod that appeared in an infant school garden in Leicester. Crime scene tape and people in white suits surround the pod. The pod seems to contain living organic matter, so it looks as if it could be an alien life form. The people in white suits ask the children to help with their enquiries, 'as their thinking is so much fresher than our own'.
Even to understand the news report you have to be a bit of a detective, but it looks like the work of artist of Anne-Marie Mulchane and it's Creative Partnerships. This is a brilliant example of a creative enquiry project. It kicks off with an extraordinary event or stimulus and then the children's own curiosity and creative ideas will take it on to more or less unplanned directions. I love it.