Saturday, January 17, 2015

Better Versions of Our Ideas

"Ephemeral Rays" by Charlotte Smith
I have several cherished theories, none of which is based on any shred of evidence. One is that most of us want better versions of the ideas we already have. True, we like what we have come up with, but want an improvement over it. This might pertain to a concept for an exhibition, the title of an article, a vision statement, an idea for a museum initiative, or the theme for a party. We do like our idea and we don’t want to give it up. We just wish it were more, more…provocative, current, simpler, deeper, or perhaps edgier.   

Not surprisingly, I’m ever-so-pleased when I find something I like to think about, write on, or do, that is accomplished in a way I wish I could manage. In the last several days, I have fortuitously come across links to three interesting websites and blogs that illustrate my cherished Better Version theory. While located in my silo and what I write about on Museum Notes, these writings do so with spark and spunk. Of interest to me, it is also a pleasure to share them with others interested in stretching their thinking and deepening their insights.

But will you be here?  An argument for tours that encourage life-long museum going by Jackie Delamatre on Rebecca Herz’s Museum Questions

Rebecca Herz has been hosting a series of guest posts on museums and schools; all have been very good. In this one, her guest Jackie Delamatre challenges some basic assumptions about school tours in museums. Now an educator at the RISD Museum (Providence), her provocative questions are based on observations of students in tours she has lead at the Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum and Museum of Modern Art. I think Jackie is able to highlight where museums limit themselves in imagining what tours (and other programs) might be by replicating the teacher-directed approach of classrooms in informal learning institutions; placing curricular connections high on the list of goals for school visits; and structuring space and lessons that answer questions we hope students also have. What if, Jackie wonders, the primary goal of a museum visit were to foster an understanding of, appreciation for, and techniques for being future visitors in a museum? This question opens inviting new territory for museum educators to explore ways in which learners might direct their own learning, explore what interests and motivates them, and allows them to explore their thinking and ideas. 
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The Happy Museum

How can an idea like a Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI) not get one’s attention? I came across that and a link to the Happy Museum project in this week’s Center for the Future of Museums' blog post, Lost Pleasures. The Happy Museum Project (HMP) in the UK is concerned with enlarging the idea of community–in time, space, and participants–well beyond what museum aspirations and planning typically embrace. With a determination we seldom see among museums, HMP pursues a museum’s role as a steward of people, place and community. An appetite for roomy ideas connects well-being and environmental sustainability. Well-being is supported by the restorative benefits of museum visits, resilience, and community and museum synergies that include resources like outdoor space. Reimagining museums’ role in increasing community vitality involves civic engagement with a mutuality among museums, visitors, and citizens. HMP clearly favors a museum’s measuring (and doing) what matters over easy-to-quantify financial and resource measures. Its experimental mindset (it describes its efforts as “a creative enquiry”) is also expressed in commissioning projects and conducting action research. More expansive than what most museums are likely to consider, HMP is a friendly provocation to museums to stretch their vision, challenge their assumptions, and activate their community relationships.  
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Department of Play

A Boston-based collective, Department of Play’s mission is to bring a spirit of empathy and wonder to public life through immersive, irresistible, and aesthetically appealing collective experiences in public space. In staging temporary play zones at familiar and unmemorable locations across Boston, Department of Play is not just for or about children. It does use play as a collaborative endeavor capable of shaping and transforming public space, increasing social exchange, and impacting quality of life. Department of Play seems to be the kind of partner museums can work with and learn from as they envision the positive change possible for their community and engage members of the community in realizing it. This is also an organization that serves a wide audience, has a strong sense of what it is about, and expresses it playfully in small (hello[at]deptofplay[dot]com) and large ways; activities are designed with research in mind.
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