The siren call of Facebook and other social platforms back in the ‘00s suggested to museums that they should migrate their marketing efforts and content online in search of virtual engagement. Many institutions created long lists of people who were all too happy to click, view, and otherwise consume information as long as 1) it was free, and 2) didn’t require them to do anything.
Then in late 2010, the Brooklyn Museum took the extraordinary step of discontinuing its efforts to engage with faraway virtual consumers to focus on tools that got people together face-to-face and, more importantly, connected them to the physical reality of museum content. This radical move asserted that communities needed to move beyond online consumption and embrace physical participation in order to satisfy the goals of museum-goers and the institutions they might visit. We didn’t know it at the time, but getting people thus engaged built upon the only quality that truly differentiated museums from any other producers of content.
A tidal wave soon followed as more museums elevated their furtive online social experiments to more full-bodied engagement programs. A museum in St. Louis figured out that communities have always been dependent on purpose more than entertainment, so it keyed its ecology exhibit into the curriculum of the local public grade schools and encouraged kids and parents to join a community that would help them learn. A technology museum in San Francisco created weekly on-site events for computer programmers to discuss how to best adapt an ongoing exhibit on AI.
Now there are communities that participate in everything from genetic research and archeological digs, to oil painting restoration and poetry...all through engagement campaigns (both online and off) that create topical, timed, and purpose-driven reason for them to get involved and bring them into museums. It’s odd that less than a decade ago we celebrated Twitter subscriber lists as accomplishments of community, when now we have engaged consumers who are also participants in museum visits and purchasers of museum content.
What’s the future look like? Now that museum communities are real, the next decade will herald a new era of creativity. It’s possible that by 2030 we’ll see museums routinely involve their communities in the vetting of information, selection and design of exhibits, and other forms of mediated crowd-sourcing. Members could get engaged with what’s inside museums before it’s ever inside.
- This is exhibit-worthy content rendered as an interactive experience.