Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Finally the Penny Drops

I couldn't make it myself, but Nicholas Serota and Neil McGregor (head honchos at the Tate and British Museum respectively) spoke at the LSE last week about the Museum of the 21st Century.

Amazingly enough, their conclusion seemed to be that it lay on the internet. "Well hello..." you might say.

But they also seem to have identified the fact that museums need to act as broadcasters and publishers, which starts to address a fundamental problem: access isn't enough.

Years ago there was a massive drive towards digitisation, with libraries leading the way. We all know about Google Print.

Looking at the petabytes of scans made the institutions happy that they now had a valuable asset. Like having money in the bank. That you're not allowed to touch.

Most have yet to realise how to surface that content in an engaging way, or provide shared experiences around it. Nick Poole from the Collections Trust commented on the talk "We really do need a new product to excite these people - which might still focus on interacting with Collections in a browser, but in much more imaginative and mediated ways." (You would be right at this point to think this is where Armadillo comes in).

But then we also need museums to take up the challenge of interpretation, and herein lies their role as broadcasters and publishers. A layer of mediation, interpretation and facilitation between the object and the public preserves the role of the museum curator. How many European teenagers do you see wandering the galleries of our museums, with looks of blank incomprehension on their faces. "I know this is important stuff" you can hear them say to themselves (maybe in German...) "but I don't know why".

We can do something about this.