Video: the participatory museum

Nina Simon, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, addresses TEDxSantaCruz about the value of active participation in museums.

“The problem is that for most people museums are seen as elite institutions, so when people look for cultural experiences they don’t go to a museum,” she says.

But museums need to be those places because “we desperately need places where we can have positive interactions with people who are not like us”.

The answer? Invite active participation in your museum, and treat artifacts as social objects that can mediate interaction among people from different backgrounds.

Do you agree?


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Brendan Carr
MA Member
Community Engagement Curator, Reading Museum Service
21.11.2012, 23:48
I know it's not compulsory to agree with what's being said by Nina but I do. The key message for me from this is about the quality of the design of the tools used to invite participation and there are some brilliant ideas here for this, which I will steal and present as my own at my next meeting with my boss. This way I will definately get a pay rise so that I can buy the new carpet I need for my stairs and landing. The other thing I found revealing in this video is the interesting effect Nina's practice has on visitor figures and thus the secondary spending pattern, which resulted in a more financially sustainable museum: Clearly deepening dialogue with audiences makes them grow, perhaps through word of mouth; people tell other people when they've had a good time.
Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
21.11.2012, 22:05
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to work in these soi-disant 'elite' museums because it is not the world i inhabit. I and my colleagues meet visitors and interact with other users who I'd be most surprised if they saw their local museum as this distant elite institution. They wouldn't describe themselves as part of some kind of elite nor would they differentiate themselves from 'most people'. Like most people, I interact with those who never darken the door of their local museum: some just find other ways to pass the time and who am i to question their choices; others often visit museums on holiday, but are just too busy earning a living and all the other demands that take up 'most people's' time. However, every so often they change their priorities and engage with their local museum and it can be the start of a long relationship. More importantly, this is happening up and down the country at countless local museums, but perhaps we aren't part of the 'elite' that is being questioned???