popup museum – warning rambling ahead!

Here is a video I made:

When I attend conferences I try to follow a theme or set of ideas when I choose the sessions I’ll go to. I like to do this because it is often a great way to germinate my own ideas and it works particularly well if the presenters are all on the same page, so to speak. I think that at conferences if individual and unconnected presenters are saying things that fit snugly into rather than harshly against each other there is more chance that they know what they’re talking about.

Last week I heard a number of presentations that contributed to germinating the idea of the popup museum. There was Stephen Heppell (Steve!), talking first about Marc Prensky’s ideas about verbs and nouns – that now is the time when the verbs are more important than the nouns, that the things we do are more important than the things. Wow. Stephen then talked about playing and learning and, perhaps more significantly, how the future of cultural institutions is as small, agile organisations. He also made a comment about using the vacant shops of the UK as schools. David Milne from QLD Museum spoke passionately, if in a limited way, about citizen curators. And finally, Liam Wyatt spoke about his experience as a Wikimedian in residence at the British Museum.

The idea – pretty much fully formed – of the popup museum really did just arrive for me. I remember it was when Stephen Heppell made the comment about schools in vacant shops. And the more I tested it out against the things other people were saying, the more robust it seemed.

Finally, and most importantly, I was inspired and reminded by Lynda Kelly’s speech that the way to attack these things is to just do it. So that’s what I’m doing.

Two other things have popped up (no pun intended!) over the last few days: the outhouse storycatcher used for social research in NSW and the Things Exhibition in London.

The popup museum is a non-proprietary idea; it is free and open-source and I want to engage with people about it.

What is the popup museum? The concept is simple. Take a vacant space and invite people to add to a collection and/or curate an exhibition.

The pop-up museum does not collect items (although it will facilitate the donation of important items to appropriate collecting places); it collects stories about items. The collection is a born-digital one that is formed during the life of the popup museum. Exhibitions are curated and re-curated by citizen curators, probably online initially but ideally in a physical way in the same space the collecting is happening.

The practical way to start is with online exhibitions, although I think the physical act of collecting, of meeting and helping people to record their stories is important and essential. I don’t want this to be just another online sharing tool. I want it to be a way to collect the local, small, important stories associated with items people are unlikely to donate to or see in museums. They, the citizen curator, decides what is worthy of collection. They use tags to suggest how their story can be used and others can respond to their stories and add their own tag ideas. But to do this they have to come into the popup museum.

The online exhibitions could be done off-site, but I like the idea of it being done at the popup museum too. I want to encourage collaboration and discussion and careful consideration of how an exhibition is put together.

If I get to do the physical exhibitions, I see a room with a number of touch screens attached to some kind of wheeled display box. Each is running a story or set of stories about an object. Visitors may move the screens to arrange and consider themes and ideas they see within the collection. They can ‘store’ stories that don’t fit, physically make a theme dominant or develop a narrative or a chronology. Each exhibition will be recorded as part of the collection, including a statement from the citizen curator. Visitors can also view, use, change or re-create past exhibitions.

The space will have chairs(!) and visitors will be encouraged to stay and relax there, discuss with others and generally take time to explore.

Each popup museum would probably work best with a theme, but I’d like these to be very broad – most important item in your house, an item that reminds you of a smell, etc. Just to help people think about what they could contribute. They will probably be local collections developed by the people who live/work in the area where the pop-up museum is. They could be developed around an event (past or present), or a group. They must always be malleable – no one ‘owns’ the collection and to donate to the collection means understanding that a story can be used in a variety of ways, from a variety of points of view, telling a variety of narratives.

There will be free wi-fi, heaps of power plugs, shoes optional and useful furniture (although I’ll probably start with whatever I can find!).

I don’t want rules, beyond those of common decency and courtesy. I’m sure some things will come up that need to be dealt with, but I’m willing to use a wait-and-see approach.

I’m certain there are things I haven’t thought of.

So, popup museum! First one will be somewhere in Perth as soon as I can get a space, equipment and promotions organised.

Feedback VERY welcome – join in!

6 Responses to “popup museum – warning rambling ahead!”
  1. Jane King says:

    Jen, love this idea, how can I help?

  2. Cath says:

    Jen, this is great. Also reminds me of the Renew Newcastle project of using empty shopfronts for local artisans. I’ll DM you on a question more to the point.

  3. Hi Jen,

    Great idea! I really like some of the things that are being done in old retail spaces, particularly in places like the UK and US where there is a lot of post-GFC vacant real estate.

    If you’re looking for inspiration re crowdsourcing, community curation, etc, then The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon is an essential resource. If you haven’t come across it before, you must check out its wealth of ideas and case studies. You can either buy it as a hard copy, or read it online at http://www.participatorymuseum.org.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] If you’ve either been around this parts for awhile (in which case I’m sure you’re shocked *I’m* still around these parts) or have perused the…ahem…back catalogue (as it were), you’ll know that just over a year ago I wrote a post about the idea I came back from the Museums Australia National Conference in Melbourne with. You remember…the popup museum post. […]

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