Sunday, May 25, 2014
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I'm looking forward to the C4-sponsored 2Together http://2gether08.com/ conference which is bringing together 'visionaries' (and wannabees like me) to explore how digital technologies can solve bigger problems. I've been nudging the organisers to ensure that there is a slot or current exploring the triangulation of culture, digital technologies and solving the bigger problems.
There is a bit a gulf between movements for good and the cultural sector, which is not to say that culture doesn't have a contribution to make. Part of the reason for the gulf is the resistance to instrumentalism in the arts sector, and perhaps a sense that culture is elitist and indulgent amongst the social good and charities sectors. I want to bridge that gulf and show that this polarised view of each other is out of date, and that digital technologies play a key role in this shift.
So, if the conference is going to touch on culture at all, I'd better get on and come up with some suggestions. The trouble is, where to start. Culture is so broad, from popular contemporary creativity to archived information and documenting passing knowledge, not forgetting the work of museums and arts organisations. Do parts of culture do more good than others? Does it do more good if it gets spread more widely and involves more people in participation? Is the internet as a cultural ark (e.g. as in the collecting of dying tribal languages) the strongest force for good? Is that task worthwhile, or should we focus on fostering new ways of thinking to solve the huge global problems we face?
Any good examples? Any ideas?
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
I went to a really stimulating breakfast event at the new One Alfred Place club http://www.onealfredplace.com/
It was about digital futures of traditional media and the speakers were all challenged to talk about what happens next.
First up was Jeremy Ettinghausen from Penguin. He confessed to be responsible for the worst novel in history, the 'wikinovel'. He has also created the more successful
http://wetellstories.co.uk/, which brings well known writers together with game designers. He said this was only a toe in the water, not an indication of Penguin's future publishing direction. However, he was more positive about e-books, predicting that this year they could take off. A question: Is reading on the internet fundamentally changing the way we access information? There does seem to be evidence that we are shifting from reading a linear narrative to a fragmentary and skipping experience. Publishers will have to become editors and marketers of ideas and entertainment, not so much of books. It's about storytelling not paper....towards the integrated book.
Kevin Anderson, the blogs editor for the Guardian, being from the US gave lots of US examples. His role is about taking the tools that are disrupting their business model and applying them to their job. Newspapers are old not new. Young people are not reading papers. Newspaper companies need to become news companies, and look for new markets. With free open-source web tools, the cost of failure is almost zero and the speed of development can be very fast. The Guardian will need to start using such tools more as they currently take 6-12 months to develop a new product, which then quickly dates. He talked about how the most successful parts of the paper are the parts for specific communities of interest (localities, food, sport, professions etc). People are less needy of the comprehensive spread of publicly ordained news. A US paper has just gone to a bi-weekly print, but with daily online updates. Another US paper is a freesheet that combines content from staff and from the online communities.
Matt Locke is the commissioning editor for Channel 4 education.
I found him most interesting because he has been an artist and curator, and he referred to museum and gallery experiences and new media. He described how our notions of public and private had broken down, that we have reconceived them as the personal and the social. The interconnections between the personal and social are far more dynamic and fluid than existed between private and public. Media companies (and educators, museums etc) will have to engage with those new vernacular techniques that we have to use to shift register from one to the other. Young people can't believe that there was a time, perhaps only ten years ago, that if you wanted to speak in public you needed permission. (I was wondering at that: For all of the many projects funding 'youth voice', young people may ironically need it less than adults who are not using the media that empowers their voice.) He went on to talk about how we develop this ability to shift register through playfulness. For example, when cameras first became accessible in the earlier 20th Century, people began to play with photography, showing themselves in diverse relationships with one another and in varieties of status and situation. This complexity of identity and relationship is evidenced today by the way young people manage many different file categories of friends in MSN or Facebook.
The challenge for new media (especially that evolving from old media organisations) is to flip easily from the personal to the social. What looks playful and trivial is actually the most meaningful in pointing the way forward. He never does any of C4's web projects on http://www.channel4.com/ but on Bebo and My Space. "If we build a grand edifice, branded C4, the young people we are trying to reach just wouldn't come."
That's a pretty useful insight for museums too.
This Guardian blog post by Bibi van der Zee describes taking her children to the Science of Survival exhibition (currently at the Science Museum in London) which is a fantastically playful and high tech experience, exploring the future in which we will need to survive with climate change. She says they loved it, but asks whether it was really successful at teaching them about climate change. I just wrote a brief response to the post, as we had written the accompanying family and schools learning resources. http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/2008/05/a_little_while_ago_i.html
Thursday, May 1, 2008
I went to a seminar at UCL last night, to hear Roy Clare, CEO of the MLA and Carole Souter, CEO of HLF talking about the future, the funding context and how their respective bodies will contribute to curation in the 21st Century. I'm not going to supply a full transcript of the event, but have picked up a key issue about digital strategy.
Carole Souter insisted that the HLF would not fund digitisation (only 'real people doing real things'). She conceded that there could be some catchy, engaging digital culture projects, for example the Tate's campaign inviting the public to buy a brushstroke of a painting. A questioner asked 'Call me naive, but surely if digitisation is what we are crying out for, why do you make these restrictions?' The response was 'We're getting tough with people. You have to look at the breadth of our aims. We're an additional funder, not a funder of core activities. If you tell us that 200,000 more people are going to look at your website because of it, well, so what? How do you know they have really been engaged?' So, her suggestion was that if you are going to include digitisation into an HLF bid, it would have to involve people in specific thematic projects of local interest.
Roy Clare highlighted the NOF Digitise project as an example of where we went wrong in assuming that mass digitisation and online publishing of collections would be engaging. He said that when he (when at the National Maritime Museum) and partners were planning Port Cities http://www.portcities.org.uk/: 'Did we think about how anybody would ever find it? How they would engage with it?' His response seemed to suggest that we shouldn't do digitisation because these projects were difficult to market.
However, my argument would be that the NOF projects are an example of the limited thematic trap that the HLF approach to digital culture encourages. The Port Cities project may not be as successful as it could have been precisely because they made too much effort to define a theme, to define a collaboration between several museums, to focus on particular markets and so on.
What is needed is a flexible approach to digitisation that enables collection items to be presented in multiple thematic, social, institutional and technological contexts and to be interpreted in multiple ways and combined with other collections in multiple ways. Investment in a) the continuation of mass digitisation and b) in incubating approaches to tagging, indexing, syndicating are what we need now, and we should see this being championed as the core of 21st Century Curation by bodies such as MLA and HLF.
I posted this to the Museums Computer Group e-list and sparked off a pretty long thread of discussion, usefully summarised and responded to here by Jeremy (to whom thanks)
Sunday, April 27, 2008
I was talking to Tom Steinberg the other day, the founder of http://www.mysociety.org/, 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 http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2008/04/participation-through-gifting-pass-it.html 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.
Brooklyn Museum is trying an interesting experiment in crowd-curation of a photography exhibition http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/click/
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: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2008/04/brooklyn-clicks-with-crowd-what-makes.html 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.
I just got sent this mystery story: http://www.nowpublic.com/strange/more-alien-cocoons-found-tokyo-washington-huge-cocoon-appears-infant-school-garden
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.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (author of Moomin stories) http://www.sortof.co.uk/Summer/index.html is perfect for anyone interested in pedagogy. It is about 6 year old Sophia and her grandmother mooching around a Finnish island throughout a summer. Sophia's mother has died and her father is busy writing in the study. The chapter 'Playing Venice' is a good example of how the book delicately shows what play, conversation with adults and observing the natural world can do for children.
In the chapter, a postcard arrives from Venice, showing beautiful palaces seemingly floating in the canal. Sophia's grandmother has been there so she describes it excitedly to Sophia, the smells, the sinking, the golden dinner plates buried in the mud. They invent a princess and a mother, and then begin building their own Venice near a marsh pond, talking all the while as princess and posh mother. They have a little spat because grandmother thinks it's not quite right that Sophia should be calling her 'mama', worrying about how she lacks her own mother. The spat is therapeutic, though. Later that night, a storm and high tide comes and destroys their Venice. Sophia is completely distraught. Grandmother says 'I promise I'll find the palace' and secretly makes one from matches. When she finally lets Sophia in to see it, Sophia says 'Quiet...I want to hear if she's still there.' After a while listening she says 'You can rest easy. Her mother says it was a perfectly dreadful storm. Now she's cleaning up the mess and she's pretty worn out.'
I like the fact that a small image, a postcard, can be the stimulus for so much imaginative play. The two are completely absorbed in making Venice, and it grows and grows all day under the alder tree. In this making of Venice the grandmother isn't acting as teacher, although it was her knowledge of the city that enabled them to imagine and recreate it. She is entirely involved in the play herself. Then the destruction of their work is a sad loss, but one that can be overcome by remaking the space for the drama to continue.
Friday, February 15, 2008
This year's GEM conference was advertised today (4-7 September, Leicester http://www.gem.org.uk/cpd/conf/conference.html)
The blurb said: "As government and funding priorities shift to fulfil expanding learning and social agendas, are heritage organisations being realistic in trying to be "all things to all people?"
Every Audience Matters provides an active and in-depth exploration of how we can meet these growing demands, and addresses the wider implications of our evolving roles, from regional, national and international perspectives.
The three days focus on:
This looks like a really useful conference. I had a couple of thoughts. The first is that I'm not sure that many organisations do try to be 'all things to all people' in shifting their focus towards excluded audiences and an educational mission. Many that are making this shift are building strong relationships with some very specific groups, which is generally 'a good thing'. It is true perhaps that these organisations are becoming 'quite a lot of things to some particular people'. I sometimes wonder whether it is possible to target specific groups a bit too much and to make assumptions that their strongest interests or identifications are what your programmes should be all about. This is a potentially controversial view, expressed tentatively.
The second thought is a gentle musing about the fact that there are two separate days on Learners and Audiences. Now, if museums are for learning and if learning experiences encompass everything including inspiration and enjoyment (ILfA), what is the difference? Of course, we would categorise a student taking part in a museum-based course as a 'learner', but they are also an audience for a cultural experience. We would also categorise a tourist wandering into a museum, passing by the shop and out again, as an audience member rather than a learner, but even at their most passive they are learning something simply by looking around them. The false differentiation can cause problems between teams in organisations, in funding bids and in scoping new projects. I'd be interested to hear comments from anyone who has views on this distinction.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Here's the same post again, or rather the same excuse, different details. But hopefully you'll find these links interesting. Flow are working on two more projects:
We're helping the Wellcome Trust to scope the feasibility of touring exhibitions for young people, promoting the kinds of creating learning about biomedicine and science in general that are exemplified by the Pulse Awards that they fund. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pulse/about.html
I've been a fan of the Wellcome's exhibitions for a long time, even going back to the early 90's when they had tiny little shows hidden in their library building. This is a unique mix of galleries, events and meeting, reading and eating places, dedicated to exploring the connections between medicine, life and art. The opening exhibition is all about the heart. http://www.wellcomecollection.org/
Another job is working for the Sonic Arts Network, doing a small piece of research for the Education team about their award-winning Sonic Postcards, focusing on 'hard to reach' young people. http://www.sonicartsnetwork.org/
I'm also a bit busy as a school governor at the wonderful Edmund Waller Primary School in SE14. http://www.edmundwaller.lewisham.sch.uk/ Because I'm the 'link governor' for art and literacy, I'm involved in an ambitious project all about books, working with Michael Rosen, printmaker Brian McKenzie and other creative contributors. Last week, we visited the British Library with a year 5 and year 2 group. I did a couple of workshops with them. It was quite an interesting experience, visiting with a school group, as until March 2006 I was head of learning there. It had been hard at the time to be in touch with children's responses to the collections as I had to spend so much time in meetings. The children also had a workshop in the Sacred exhibition, which was very sumptuous. http://www.bl.uk/sacred
Thursday, January 24, 2008
A(nother) really interesting report from Demos is just out. This one is called Logging On: Culture, Participation and the Web http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/loggingon
It is an evaluation of Culture Online, http://www.cultureonline.gov.uk/ or rather "A moment of reflection is provided by the coming to an end, in March 2007, of the Culture Online initiative funded by [DCMS]. Culture Online provides both an interesting case study, bringing together lessons learnt about how to organise online engagement, and a point of departure for asking questions about future directions." As an evaluation, it is very complimentary about the way Culture Online was managed. It promotes its 'commissioning model' and holds up the finished projects as successful, and therefore as proof of the management model. In many ways it was a good model, as the strong project management clearly delivered results. Also the emphasis on learning & innovation over the functional needs of each institution means that the results are much more engaging than many of the NOF Digitise sites (now on http://www.enrichuk.net/ )
If this is a chance to raise a few questions, I'm going to do so. Cultural institutions were criticised by the Culture Online team for not dealing well with this commissioning model. To be clear, this model meant that a national museum (for example) was not applying for a grant to develop a cultural product online for the nation. Rather, the national museum was acting in a role as supplier, theoretically responding to a call to tender, and then delivering a product to the commissioner, including working with partners they may not have chosen and signing over the copyright. Non-commercial cultural organisations have never acted in this role so they understandably struggled to adapt. What made it trickier was that Culture Online was promoted as funding rather than an invitation to tender to deliver to a specific brief. Cultural organisations are pressured to raise funds other than from core sources and it is seen as sensible management to use such funds to achieve planned core developments (e.g. digitisation, acquisitions) rather than entirely squander them on tangential experiments. Once many cultural organisations realised the implications of applying for Culture Online money, for some after expensive deliberations, it became very difficult to pursue the opportunity. Only one museum was able to proceed as lead applicant, the V&A (including the Museum of Childhood.)
One feature the Culture Online team were very keen on was sustainability. However, it isn't clear how the investment in these 20 websites provides a resource for the thousands of cultural organisations across the UK to boost their engagement with audiences through digital means. One project, OOKL (previously My Art Space) http://www.myartspace.org.uk/web/index.php is based on an invitation to museums and galleries to join the scheme. However, the link about how to join is broken and the cost of hiring the programmed mobile phones must be the prohibitive factor. Another, ICONS (the most expensive project at circa £1 million) http://www.icons.org.uk/ highlights some key items from museums such as the Magna Carta but it doesn't appear to invite or involve those museums in the nominations or interpretation of the icons. Meanwhile many small museums, galleries and archives have only a minimal web presence.
Strong commissioning is a good model if a) cultural organisations have adequate funding for core functions and b) if the commission is a very clear tender. To offer a clear tender to make a commissioning process work, Culture Online needed a vision that was more than just principles about how to manage online projects. A future Culture Online (because we still need one) must be crafted through audience research and through consultancy with cultural organisations.
It should have the following features:
- fewer websites, fewer projects, bigger ambition for each
- build on the 24 Hour Museum http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/
- coverage of a full variety of forms of cultural engagement, enabling audiences to discover all artforms and collections wherever they are (there is no national cultural 'what's on' - I think?)
- overcoming barriers to partnership between cultural organisations by ensuring that no single cultural organisation is a lead partner, whilst also bringing them 'on side' and inviting their contribution, offering them tools so that they can engage better with their audiences
- boosting strategic work to achieve interoperability of digital collections and searches, and acknowledging that collection-based organisations need to digitise before they can interpret and engage online
- supporting digital arts, or innovative arts online (only manifest in one Culture Online project, The Dark http://www.thedark.net/)
- learn from other countries, for example the Virtual Museum of Canada, which is a result of a strong partnership between Canada's vast museum community and the Department of Canadian Heritage http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/English/About/index.html
And several more. Comments welcome...