Category Archives: Links

‘Getting In On the Act’: Exploring Participatory Arts Practice

A recent study published by the James Irvine Foundation (October 2011) entitled Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation draws insights from nonprofit arts groups and experts to explore a new model for understanding and supporting participatory arts practices, a growing trend here in the United States as well as across the globe.  Here is how the reports’ authors begin to frame this “siesmic shift” towards a participatory arts culture:

“Technology has fundamentally changed the way people interact, learn, and think about culture. Contemporary notions of creativity, shaped by Web 2.0, center on shared construction of cultural identity and an ethos of participatory experience…. The open, free and instantaneous exchange of digital content affords people the resources to control their own creative experiences and make their own meaning. Interactive experiences of all sorts are now an expected norm.” (6)

But, then the report got a lot more interesting to me…

This shift is about more than just technology. People are thinking about the experience of culture differently than in the past, placing value on a more immersive and interactive experience than is possible through mere observation…. Americans are activating their own creativity in new and unusual ways … [as] part of a larger ‘participatory economy’ in which social connection eclipses consumption. Americans want to meet the people who make our products, share in the work of the makers, and make things ourselves.” (6)

The report’s human-centered focus brings much-needed attention to the ability of the arts (and arts institutions) to connect people, to create shared experiences, and to contribute to the cultural fabric of the communities in which we live and work.

Photo by Santiago Ochoa

For art museums (and museum educators, especially), the report provides an extremely meaningful tool for reflecting on how we involve audiences in shaping their own experiences and making their own meaning. The report’s “Audience Involvement Spectrum” provides a nice, workable model for audience engagement, from “receptive” involvement (the type of spectating and educational enrichment occurring in the vast majority of arts museums) to increasingly “participatory” involvement (the types of crowd-sourcing, co-creation, and public artistic experiences that more and more art museums are slowly striving toward).

The report is worth a close read.  It asks some essential questions about arts programming in the 21st century, and I think art museums would have much to gain by thinking more about how they fit into this new landscape of active arts participation.  As museum educators, we have our hands on the wheel when it comes to programs — and the Irvine report clearly and strongly states that “attracting the next generation of audiences and visitors will require a transformation in programming” (11).  At the core of this transformation is both thinking outside the box (‘the box’ in this case being the rigid walls and traditions of art museums) and letting go of institutional and curatorial authority so that visitors can feel comfortable and empowered to shape their own creative experiences.

If you have a chance to peruse the Irvine Foundation’s report, I’d love to hear how your institution’s programs (or your own teaching philosophies) fit on their spectrum of audience involvement.  Has your institution embraced any of these aspects of participatory arts practice?  Do you value these types of creative, artistic experiences when you visit art museums yourself (or do you shy away from them for more passive types of engagement)?

IMLS Strategic Plan: Creating a Nation of Learners

Link to IMLS Strategic Plan, 2012 – 2016: Creating a Nation of Learners

The Institute of Museum and Library Services recently announced its 2012-2016 Strategic Plan, which includes some key challenges for museums as we move firmly into the second decade of the 21st century.

Here is my favorite quote from the Center for the Future of Museums post about the new IMLS plan:

On how museums of the future might need to be different in order to meet the needs of their communities

Museums and libraries for many years were seen as repositories for information, for content, for objects, for paintings, and as places to go and experience things in a very non-interactive way. Now we’re in a world where it’s much more about your own experience of the information, the object or the art. I think the staff in museums has to be ready and willing to accept the role of facilitator of the individual or visitor experience. In a way, it’s giving something up—you don’t control the experience anymore. You try to make it useful and helpful but also flexible so that the visitor can really get what they want out of the experience not what you want them to have. It’s being willing to really walk in the visitor’s shoes and create experiences that are meaningful to them and allow them the opportunity to develop their own understanding and their own skills.

Smarthistory: A Multimedia web-book about art & art history

Link to Smarthistory.org

Exploding the concept of the art history survey text, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker developed Smarthistory.org to bring art and art history to life through close looking, collaborative conversation, and multimedia digital learning.  Saying “bye, bye” to the professor standing up at the front of a dark classroom lecturing for hours, this site engages the 21st century learner and opens up the images and stories of art history to anyone with an internet connection or mobile device.

Beth and Steven best describe the power of the Smarthistory.org approach:

“We have found that the unpredictable nature of discussion is far more compelling to students, museum visitors, and other informal learners than a monologue. When students listen to shifts of meaning as we seek to understand each other, we model the experience we want our visitors to have—a willingness to encounter the unfamiliar and transform it in ways that make it meaningful to them.”

Connections – Metropolitan Museum of Art

Link to Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Connections.

Last year, in 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art launched the thematic multimedia series called Connections as a way of connecting visitors (mostly online visitors) to the voices and personal perspectives of their staff — ultimately creating new connections with artworks in the collection.  I immediately began following the series, clicking on the multimedia/audio links each week. The series certainly models a way of connecting artworks across collections and time periods through the personal or intellectual links we can make. Its episodes on themes such as “Fatherhood,” “Texture,” and “Bad Hair” help museum novices (and lifelong visitors) reconnect with the simple, human element that is at the core of our interactions with art.

Photo by Andrew Brannan