Museopunks is on hiatus. Between April 2013 and September 2014, Suse Cairns and I produced 18 episodes of Museopunks, a podcast for the progressive museum. During this time, we explored some of the sector’s most stimulating questions, institutions, and practices, with a focus on emergent, boundary-pushing work and ideas. Guests included Sree Sreenivasan (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Michael Edson (Smithsonian), Elizabeth Merritt (Centre for the Future of Museums), Sharna Jackson (Tate) and many more. The complete archive for Season One is here for posterity. We are currently working on Season Two.
Episode 01 – Kick Out The Jams
In this, the inaugural episode of the Museopunks podcast, the Punks chat to Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution, and Paul Rowe, CEO of Vernon Systems, about museums in the Age of Scale. How can museums rethink their practices to work at web scale, from the smallest institutions up to the biggest?
Episode 02 – Flip the Script
What role does design and design thinking play in museum innovation? In this episode, the Punks dig into one of the “secret themes” that emerged out of Museums and the Web 2013: design. They talk to web strategy consultant and design thinking facilitator Dana Mitroff Silvers and Scott Gillam, Manager, Web Presence of Canadian Museum for Human Rights, about just how museums can think about design, and what role empathy plays in this process.
Episode 03 – The Shape of Punk to Come
In 2012, Collections Trust CEO Nick Poole did a short analysis of 40 mission statements of leading UK museums and galleries, and discovered that the word “Future” was the third most common word used to describe the missions of the museums, double that of the word “past”. With such an eye to the future, it is little surprise to discover that museums spend some time thinking about the shape of things to come.
During recent museum conferences, there have been a number of sessions that consider museum futures and how cultural institutions can prepare for likely economic, social, and technological scenarios. At Museums Australia 2013 in May 2013, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz: Leader, CSIRO Futures gave a talk on the Our Future Worlds report, which outlines six megatrends facing the world – and the arts – in the coming twenty years. At MuseumNext, also in May, Bridget McKenzie from Flow Associates examined ways in which museums might engage with communities to maintain relevance in the coming decade and the key technologies that may be influential in future planning.
In this episode of Museopunks, your Punks will delve deep into the future to ask how museums can use future scanning techniques to better plan for the future, and meet their missions. As the OECD notes, ‘A solid ‘scan of the horizon’ can provide the background to develop strategies for anticipating future developments and thereby gain lead time. It can also be a way to assess trends to feed into a scenario development process.’
Episode 04 – Back to the Future
In 2008, AAM (now the American Alliance of Museums) established the Center for the Future of Museums to help museums understand the cultural, political, economic, environmental, and technological trends shaping the world, and envision how museums can help their communities thrive in coming decades. Why is this important? As CFM Founding Director Elizabeth Merritt wrote in 2011: ‘The biggest challenge in preparing for the future is imagining what it will be like. One of the most important roles of futures studies is to help people write stories of the future that, like all good fiction, tell the truth about something that hasn’t actually happened yet.’
This is one reason why Intel Futurist Brian David Johnson uses science fiction as a design tool for the development of technology and new products. In the introduction to The Tomorrow Project, Johnson writes that, ‘Each story is a kind of conversation about the future, a way to develop a deeper understanding, explore the opportunities and examine the hazards of a future that is not quite set but does get closer and closer each day.’
In this episode, the Punks go forecasting with Elizabeth Merritt and imagine what the impact of current cultural, economic and technological trends could be for museums. Also, the unexpected return of badgers!
Episode 05 – Game On!
Games are such a hot topic in museums, but the topic is a complex one. As blogger Kevin Bacon (no, not that one) points out, video games are expensive, are being made by many dedicated people outside museums, and can be a challenging vehicle for telling nuanced historical stories. So should museums invest in games? And if so, what should they be seeking to achieve?
In this episode, the Punks talk to Sharna Jackson, Tate Kids Editor and the woman behind Seahorse, a digital content agency for children, and Sophia George, co-founder of Swallowtail Games and the V&A’s first ever Game Designer in Residence, about all things games and gaming in the museum. What is the difference between a game and a toy? Why are women less likely to enter a career in gaming than men? And why is ‘gamification’ such a dirty word?
Episode 06 – Museums as Media Organizations
News and media organizations have been undergoing similar challenges to those facing museums in the digital age, with increased competition for attention, challenges to old models of authority, and the need to develop new kinds of business models and modes of practice in response to changing technological, social, and economic conditions. So what can museums learn from news and media organizations in order to change and adapt their practices to work effectively in an increasingly online and social media context?
In this episode, the Punks dig into these questions with a little help from Paul Schmelzer, Web Editor at the Walker Art Center, and Sree Sreenivasan, new Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both Schmelzer and Sreenivasan come to the museum sector with backgrounds in the media and significant experience in journalism, and their insights reflect the importance of these skills in the contemporary museum. Does the responsiveness of social media change the pace at which museums must work, and what opportunities does it open up for new kinds of practice?
Episode 07 – Punks, Interrupted
What happens when technical difficulties get in the way of regularly scheduled programming? The Punks make do, of course. In this episode, Suse and Jeffrey chat about inspiration, show dynamics, and their upcoming ‘Live’ shows at the Museum Computer Network conference in Montreal.
Episode 08 – Intergalactic, Planetary
On August 27 this year, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in NYC announced that it had acquired Planetary, an iPad app, which was also the Museum’s first acquisition of code. But how can such an acquisition be conserved for the future? What does it mean to acquire these kinds of highly-networked, ‘living’ objects? As Seb Chan and Aaron Cope of the Cooper-Hewitt wrote in their blog post on the acquisition:
Museums like ours are used to collecting exemplary achievements made manifest in physical form; or at least things whose decay we believe we can combat and slow. To that end we employ highly trained conservators who have learned their craft often over decades of training, to preserve what would often be forgotten and more quickly turn to dust. But preserving large, complex and interdependent systems whose component pieces are often simply flirting with each other rather than holding hands is uncharted territory. Trying to preserve large, complex and interdependent systems whose only manifestation is conceptual – interaction design say or service design – is harder still.
In response to these questions, the Cooper-Hewitt made the decision to open-source the source code for Planetary, uploading it to GitHub. In this episode, the Punks dig into some of the questions that these kinds of acquisitions and conservation processes could mean for the museum, and for how we think about objects in general. We ask how digital technologies are changing the practice of conservation? In this episode, the Punks dig into this question with the Cooper-Hewitt’s Seb Chan (Director of Digital & Emerging Media) and Aaron Cope (Senior Engineer), and Dale Kronkright (Head of Conservation at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum).
Fair warning: it’s a long episode, but a super interesting one.
Episode 09 – Museums as Digital Citizens
DigitalCitizenship.net cites nine individual elements of digital citizenship: access, commerce, communication, literacy, etiquette, law, rights & responsibilities, health & wellness, and security (self protection). Cultural institutions are doing well in some respects, but what about other areas? Could museum interactive experiences not only provide access to rich content, but also help increase the overall digital literacy of users? Can our digital projects travel parallel paths in pursuit of both curatorial mission and digital good? Should they?
- Darin Barney, Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship, McGill University
- Kyle Jaebker, Director IMA Lab, Indianapolis Museum of Art
- Luis Marcelo Mendes, Communications Consultant for Museums, Fundação Roberto Marinho
This episode was recorded live at MCN 2013 on November 21, 2013. Thank you to the Museum Computer Network for making it possible, and inviting us to be a part of this conference.
Episode 10 – Inspiration, Muses and Forces that Inspire Creative Digital Work
Over the course of MCN2013, we’ll hear a lot about great #musetech projects and issues facing the sector. But in this session, the Punks want to learn about the muses and inspirations outside of the sector that help fuel and inform some of most creative work from some of the most interesting #musetech practitioners.
What music, literature or extra-curricular activities inspire us? And how do those inspirations relate to our professional approach?
- Don Undeen, Manager of Media Lab, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Micah Walter, Webmaster, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
- Koven Smith, Principal, Kinetic Museums
This episode was recorded live at MCN2013 on November 22, 2013. Thank you to the Museum Computer Network for inviting us to be a part of the conference.
Episode 11 – Communication Breakdown
Marshall McLuhan once proposed that new technologies introduce new habits of perception, new ways of seeing and interacting with the world. In this session, the Punks and their guests will tackle this theory head-on.
How do digital tools and technologies alter our habits of perception? What does it means to look at the world with one eye always glued to a screen? How is digital culture impacting our visual and written language, and are we cool with all of this?
- Beck Tench, Director for Innovation and Digital Engagement, Museum of Life and Science
- Matthew Israel, Director of The Art Genome Project, Artsy
- Nancy Proctor, Head of Mobile Strategy and Initiatives, Smithsonian Institution
This episode was recorded live at MCN2013 on November 23, 2013. Thank you to the Museum Computer Network for inviting us to be a part of the conference.
Episode 12 – Innovative Curation
Museopunks regularly digs into some of the more innovative practice in museums, but so far, we’ve haven’t tackled curating. In this episode, Suse catches up with one of the most powerful people in the world of art – Paola Antonelli (@curiousoctopus), Senior Curator of Architecture & Design, Director of Research & Development, MoMA – to find out what innovative curating looks like. What does it mean to collect the @ symbol? Do museums need R&D departments? There are more and more entrepreneurial museum projects and labs beginning to pop up, like the Spark!Lab National Network, started at the Smithsonian in 2008, or the Indianapolis Museum of Arts IMA Lab (which we discussed during our recent MCN2013 session), but what do they offer the museum? And are such projects different when approached from curatorial position, than when driven from (say) the technology department? In this episode, we find out.
Episode 13 – Digital as a Dimension of Everything
One of the most interesting sessions at MCN2013 was on The Future of Museum Digital Departments, which featured staff from the Tate, the National Gallery, London, Imperial War Museums, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and discussed the sometimes harsh realities of delivering a digital strategy within a complex organization. In the session, John Stack, Head of Digital Transformation at Tate, spoke about the museum’s recently adopted hub-and-spoke model for digital governance. In this episode, we break this idea down, and ask how different organisational structures can impact museums and digital organisations. How are museum digital departments integrated within broader institutional structures, and what impact does this have on digital’s place in the organisation?
For this discussion, the ‘punks are joined by Stack, and Keir Winesmith, Head of Web and Digital Platforms at SFMOMA. We talk about digital strategy, organisational structure, and the impact of the evolving digital landscape on the decision making process.
Episode 14 – The Economics of Free
Tyler Green (Modern Art Notes) recently wrote that “In the future, most American art museums — say, those with operating budgets of ~$7 million and up — will offer free general admission.” In this episode, the Punks talk to Green, and Maxwell L. Anderson, Director, Dallas Museum of Art, about just what it takes for museums to go free, and how new technologies, such as those that can collect extensive visitor data, make ‘free’ a new kind of proposition.
Of particular focus in this episode will be the DMA’s 2013 decision to go free, and to offer free membership. How has technology changed the conversation around free and open source materials, and access to museums – whether collections, or the museum experience itself? Is the museum re-imagined in its public capacity when it does move from a paid model to a free one? Do the data-collection possibilities of free membership programs like DMA Friends promise to change how sector-wide museum metrics are gathered, and if so, what does that mean for visitor modeling into the future?
Episode 15 – Professional Identity
What does it mean to be a museum professional with an active online presence? How does blogging, Twitter, and other forms of social media communication give shape to a professional identity in the digital age? In this episode, the Punks talk to Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, prolific blogger, and author of the book The Participatory Museum, and Ed Rodley, Associate Director of Integrated Media at Peabody Essex Museum and author of Thinking About Museums, about the impact that an active online and social media presence can have on museum work broadly, and on professional identity. What does it mean to “grow up professionally” in the public eye, or to enter into an online discourse with an already-established professional identity? How does the kind of professional discourse that social media makes possible give shape to new ways of thinking and perceiving museum work? And what are the long-term ramifications of living a professional life online for all to see?
Episode 16 – Net Neutrality
Net neutrality is a hot topic at the moment, in light of changes proposed by US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler that would allow Internet Service Providers to charge a premium for those who can afford to pay to deliver their content better and faster to their online audiences.
This issue has many in the museum sector concerned, with a post by Nancy Proctor on the Museums and the Web site noting that “It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which the only way museum content gets seen online is if the museum has done a deal with a major online publisher.” Similarly, the Museum Computer Group (UK) have written that “every audience member and institution we work with would be affected if net neutrality was lost and non-discriminatory access to information was put at risk in the United States of America.”
In this episode, the Punks are joined by Titus Bicknell from Museums and the Web, and Chief Digital Officer for RLJ Entertainment, to unpack the concept of net neutrality, and find out what the proposed changes might mean for museums
Also in the show: Suse shares some big news, and Jeff previews his session at the AAM Conference, on in Seattle May 18-21.
Episode 17 – Digital Fabrication
Discussions about 3D scanning and printing technologies have started to gain momentum in the museum world, as they seem to offer museums significant new ways to engage with their collections, and audiences. Whether its 3D Hackathons (held to some consternation) or experimentation to replicate a 19th-century statue with 21st century technology, museums are seeing new possibilities for enabling new forms of access to collections, and fresh ways to engage with the public.
In this episode, the Punks talk to Liz Neely, formerly of the Art Institution of Chicago and President-Elect for the Museum Computer Network (MCN) board and Secretary/Treasurer for the New Media Consortium (NMC) board, and Tom Burtonwood, the first Ryan Center Artist-in-Residence at The Art Institute of Chicago, to unpack digital fabrication processes in museums, and discover how and why museums might want to invest in a 3D printer.
For those wanting a primer on all things 3D in museums, Liz Neely and Miriam Langer’s MW2013 paper Please Feel the Museum: The Emergence of 3D printing and scanning is a great place to start.
Episode 18 – Rhetoric of the Future
What role does language have in dictating the way we talk and think about the future – and present – in museums? Does talking about the future hold museums back in the present? Do terms like “innovation” and “forward-thinking” actually promote the behaviours they connote? In this episode, the Punks talk to Colleen Dilenschneider, Chief Market Engagement Officer for IMPACTS, and Jeff Grabill, Professor of Rhetoric and Professional Writing and Chair of the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University, about language, rhetoric, and the power of words in creating our world.