Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Connected Museum of 2040

I hope you've had a chance to read your print copy of Museum 2040, or to download a digital copy. If you’re a little confused about why the magazine is set in the future, read my introduction to this special issue. As I noted in that post, one of the hardest things to project is the rate of adoption of a given technology. (Roy Amara at the Institute of the Future encapsulated this truth in Amara’s Law, which states that we tend to overestimate the impact of new technology in the short term, underestimate it in the long term.) Today Tiffany Fredette, offline marketing and graphics specialist at Displays2go, offers her thoughts on how far some relatively new technologies will have evolved in by the year 2040. Displays2go is one of the advertisers supporting this special issue of Museum magazine.

In the year 2040, “the internet of things” will no longer be a talking point—this technological network will practically be interlaced with our DNA. Trillions of connected devices will be transmitting and gathering data seamlessly behind the scenes. Augmented and virtual reality will be a part of everyday life, not just something to experience via a cool gadget select friends or relatives may have. Together, these advances will transform what it means to “visit” a museum.

Even before you enter a museum or gallery, your devices will be gathering data based on your conversations at home. When you remark to your partner, “We should really take the kids to the Museum of Science,” your personal artificial intelligence assistant will start checking calendars, schedules, modes of transportation, and the interests of your family members. Knowing that Tommy loves dinosaurs, it will notice the upcoming opening of a new fossil exhibit. It will scan for days when you have no meetings scheduled for work, and cross check traffic projections. By the time you ask, “When’s a good time to go to the Museum of Science?”  it will promptly reply “Friday, the 24th of next month, at 2 pm.”

Connected devices will be directly integrated into the fabric of museums and exhibits of every kind. When patrons walk through the doors with their own connected devices, the transfer of information will happen unobtrusively.  Museums will use the collected data to personalize the experience of any patron that visits for a tour. Don’t like to read the labels? No problem – an audio clip will play as you stop in front of the artwork. Not sure of the time period in which the work was made? Simply look at the art and ask, “When’s this from?” aloud—the audio will play automatically. Want to experience a museum visit the ‘old-fashioned way’, i.e. a very basic walking tour? Then that’s what will be offered to you, because the museum will have saved your preferences from previous visits.  

How will augmented and virtual reality come into play? Of course people will still make traditional trips to a museum. But what if you wanted to visit, without physically going anywhere? Those same connected devices will be your guide and mode of “transportation”. By 2040, virtual assistants will be a ubiquitous home appliance. Simply saying “Virtual assistant, bring me to the Max Ernst exhibit at the museum” will transform the space before you with a high-resolution hologram. Or synch with your virtual reality glasses, and you’ll be immersed in the exhibit without having to leave your front door. By 2040, VR may stimulate all five senses. Imagine being able to smell a botanical garden 3,000 miles away!

School field trips to museums will be completely reimagined as well. No need to bus 50 or more students an hour away, wasting gas and spewing hydrocarbons. With virtual reality, teachers can take the children on an adventure without having to leave the school building.  Putting culture and immersive history at students’ fingertips (via haptic gloves!), will enable us to increase the knowledge and appreciation of generations to come.

What will this mean for museums themselves? Will staff be downsized, and some positions become extinct? Perhaps, but new jobs may be created. Will some museums be forced to close? Probably not. The rise of virtual visits will only highlight the multisensory advantages of going to a museum IRL (in real life). Just as the rise of digital retail is leading stores to emphasize the pleasure of actually seeing, feeling, and touching items; museum visits will emphasize on-site experiences. Virtual and augmented reality will represent merely an alternative option. Physical institutions will still appeal to the human element; even as they enhance their exhibits with dynamically interactive, digitally transformed presentations.

Museums and places of culture will always have a place in the world. As with anything, staying ‘up with times’ is the key to their continued success. What will a museum look like in 3010? Now that is beyond my comprehension. What I do know, is that companies like Displays2go are in it for the long term. We’re here to support the needs of the modern museum, and we’ll continue advancing our offering to meet those needs into the future.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Museum 2040: Some Thoughts on the Future from Alberta Museums Association

Meaghan Patterson, CEO, Alberta
Museums Association
I hope Museum 2040 has arrived in your mailbox, or that you have downloaded a digital copy. If you’re a little confused about why the magazine is set in the future, read my introduction to this special issue. As I mention in that post, I am immensely grateful to the advertisers who were willing to play along with this unconventional approach. Some created ads that are, themselves, bits of immersive fiction. Others offered to contribute some content for the blog. Today, Meaghan Patterson offers some thoughts about the future based on her experience as executive director/CEO of the Alberta Museums Association.

Museums just aren’t what they used to be. The past decade has seen a significant shift in the way museums operate within their communities. Our current global reality is one of shifting demographics, increasing environmental worries, rapidly changing technologies, and economic uncertainty. The resiliency and optimism of our museum sector has been put to the test, and these changes have been viewed as challenges and opportunities for learning and for growth. They are opportunities to educate ourselves and our communities while empowering museums by demonstrating the importance of the work that we do. With long term sustainability as the goal, museums have been working to reposition themselves in their communities, collaborate with new partners, seek funding that supports long-term planning, and use a multi-sectoral approach to finding innovative and inclusive solutions.

These changes were met at first with some resistance and some uncertainty, both within and outside our sector. Some museums that rolled up their sleeves and tried to get involved were asked not what they could contribute to the conversation, but why they were at the table in the first place. In Alberta, initiatives such as the Alberta Museum Association’s (AMA) Community Engagement Initiative and Future Coalition Summit helped encourage both museums and their potential community partners to reconsider the role of museums in their communities, and to foster a true understanding of community engagement and social responsibility. Now, empowered with a greater understanding of how those values directly connect to the success and sustainability of our sector, museums are beginning to make proactive changes towards deeper community connections.

Looking forward, it is more important than ever for the museum sector to position itself as vital to the success of communities, and to understand that this repositioning relies directly on the relationships museums have with their larger environment. Museums know that a strong, vibrant future requires a focus on two realities: that museums have a crucial role to play in creating and maintaining healthy, happy, successful communities, and that engaging in socially responsible work is crucial to maintaining relevancy and resiliency in increasingly unstable times. In short, museums are demonstrating and making clear that communities need museums as much as museums need their communities.

In the future, museums will continue to facilitate conversations about issues that matter. They will utilize their position as trusted sources of information by continuing to invest in programs and services that have positive impacts. They will draw on the inspirational and creative work that has been done by other museums. In Alberta, we have shining examples such as the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Historic Fort Normandeau’s partnership with the Central Alberta Refugees Effort to support and provide services to new Canadians, or the Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre’s focus on encouraging conversations on mental health and wellness and the lasting impacts of residential schools. The AMA is also an active supporter of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice. Museums will develop and strengthen new partnerships, and demonstrate a commitment towards real change.

Museums and the museum sector will continue to see significant changes going forward, particularly in the next ten years. As museums both large and small continue to enact change and take on these challenges, they will be supported by each other and by their sector, and encouraged to focus on community involvement and support in their long term planning. Our vision for the future is ambitious, but our museums are engaged, resilient, and innovative. Our sector has embraced, adapted to, and learned from challenges, and it has a bright future: one in which museums continue to utilize their diverse skills and their creativity, affect positive change in their communities, and are fully recognized and valued as hubs for growth, empowerment, and learning. #MuseumsDoMore

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Can Museums Learn from the Harvard Business School?

 Joy's law: no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else. (Attributed to Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy.)

I’m pleased to see the registrations rolling in for the working session “Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar: creating early interventions to prevent deaccession crises.” The Alliance is organizing this meeting in partnership with AAMD, AASLH, AAMG and NEMA* to try to create some practical early detection systems and practical intercessions for budding crises. It’s taking place in Cambridge, MA on December 14 and 15, and you can read more about it in this earlier post.

Several people, seeing my social media posts on the convening, have asked me whether it is a Center for the Future of Museums project. It isn’t, at least not directly. The Alliance is tackling this issue to further our strategic focus on thought leadership, and it is true that CFM is the Alliance’s major thought leadership initiative. However, use of funds resulting from the sale of deaccessioned collections isn’t inherently a futurist topic. It is very much a problem arising from inside the museum field, with which we have grappled for decades, though how we resolve the issue may have profound implications for the future of our sector. (More on that in a post to come.)

However, having been asked to help develop the agenda and act as lead moderator, I bring a CFM approach to the endeavor. CFM’s gaze is always directed outside our field, trying to discover what museums might learn from other sectors. Since the meeting is being hosted by the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, I started knocking at digital doors of the Harvard Business School (HBS). Surely, I thought, for-profit companies must on occasion find themselves caught between ethical rocks and financial hard places. My colleagues and I had a number of discussions with various faculty about how they teach related materials, and how this approach might be relevant for museums.
 Nien-hê Hsieh,
assoc professor of business
administration, HBS

As a result, I am enormously pleased to announce that Dr. Nien-hê Hsieh, associate professor of business administration, will join us Thursday morning, setting the stage by leading participants through a case study from the HBS. Professor Hsieh teaches Leadership and Corporate Accountability to first-year MBA students and to Executive Education participants in the Program for Leadership Development. He joined the HBS faculty from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an associate professor of legal studies and business ethics and served as co-director of the Wharton Ethics Program. Professor Hsieh is well-positioned to help attendees explore real-world strategies for taking considered action when both ethical and financial pressures come to bear.

And that’s a challenge facing our December convening. It’s going to require a massive act of collective will to resist gravitating yet again to a discussion about on ethics, and think instead about practical solutions. But I’m looking forward to trying this approach, especially with the help of one of the “smart people who works for someone else.” (See Joy’s Law, at top.)

*Translation: Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD); American Association for State and Local History (AASLH); Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG); New England Museum Association (NEMA)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Introducing Museum 2040

The November/December issue of Museum mailed out yesterday, as well as going up on the web. (This issue of the magazine is available as a free download for members and non-members alike).  When you open your print or digital copy, you may notice something a little odd. We published this edition a little early—23 years early, to be exact.

This bit of chronological legerdemain serves as prelude to the tenth anniversary of the Center for the Future of Museums, which falls in 2018. The goal of this exercise in “future fiction” is to help you investigate one possible future and think about how our organizations might respond. As you read the stories in this issue, I hope you ask yourself, “Do I think this could happen? Do I want this to happen?” And, perhaps most importantly, “Does this have to wait until 2040, or can I make it happen now?”

I hereby award futurist points to any reader who asks “in which version of the year 2040 do these stories take place?” Of course one of the main purposes of strategic foresight is to help us think about many plausible ways the future could play out. This issue of Museum is set in one specific future that might result from existing limits and challenges playing out over coming decades. This scenario, dubbed A New Equilibrium, was developed with the input of many people inside and outside the museum field, drawing on mainstream research and projections on demographics, technology, the economy, environment and other sectors. For example, in this version of 2040:
  • The US population is older and more diverse than it is now. The ratio of retired people to people of working age (so-called “old-age dependency”) has climbed to 38% from 25% in 2017. 
  • Economic stratification has continued to grow in the past few decades. The top 10% of families now hold 85% of the wealth in the US, while the bottom 60% hold 1%.
  • In education, there has been significant growth in the number of private schools, and charter schools now serve 15 percent of the public school population (triple the number in 2014).
  • Impact philanthropy has become the dominant guiding principle of individual and foundation funding, and nonprofits are expected to provide concrete, measurable data of how they have improved the environment, or people’s lives, in order to secure support.
In the face of these challenges, museums have prospered. Attendance is robust, our organizations are financially stable, and our visitors, staff, and board members reflect our communities.

The scenario in place, I sent an invitation out through the Alliance’s professional networks for people willing to immerse themselves in this version of the future, writing content that explores what museums are doing in order to thrive in the face of these challenges. There were a few ground rules:

Congratulations to the newly accredited museums
of 2040
Authors had to stay within the bounds of this particular scenario: a future created by current trends playing out over the next decades. For example, they could posit colonies on the Moon or Mars. (After all, Elon Musk is spending billions on his plans to colonize Mars, hoping to launch the first flights in the 2020s). However, they couldn’t introduce massively disruptive events such as a global fatal pandemic disease or a nuclear world war III, or invoke the most extreme estimates regarding climate change.

Authors were only permitted to use the names of real museums if they themselves represented that institution, or obtained permission from the organization in question. For this reason, you may notice many, many museums with names similar, but not identical, to existing organizations.

Authors could write as themselves (from the perspective of being 23 years older than they are now), or they could invent fictional personas reflecting people they imagine will be working in our field by that time. For example, Sarah Sutton attributes her opinion piece on museums, equity, and environmental sustainability to an environmental activist named Ocean Six.

Given these prompts and these constraints, what stories did people invent? In addition to Sarah’s (sorry, Ocean’s) musings on the next frontier of green, that is. Rachel Hatch, program officer for community vitality at the McConnell Foundation, gives us a funder’s take on how museums are supporting the creative economy in 2040, envisioning how universal basic income might create a cadre of “citizen artists.” Adam Rozan’s keynote from the AAM 2040 annual meeting explores how the very concept of “museum” has changed over time, coming to encompass roles that used to be siloed in libraries, community centers, schools, and places of worship. Omar Eaton-Martinez writes about the newly formed US Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the role museums can play in healing and remembrance. (In this future, Omar holds the position of secretary of the Smithsonian Institution where he is, in the present, intern and fellows program manager for the National Museum of American History. And President-elect Sanai Eaton-Martínez, who is creating the TRC? That’s his daughter. 😊)

Nicole Ivy, the Alliance’s director of inclusion, took over the Community section of the magazine, crowdsourcing input on what museum jobs might exist in 2040. (My favorites include poet-in-residence, digital fabrication specialist, and spiritual services director.) Together, Nicole and I tried to ensure that the magazine as a whole reflects the diversity—of race, culture, age and (non-binary) gender—we hope will come to characterize our field.

Though it is immense fun, writing from the future did pose some challenges, notably the willingness to relinquish control! While I took the liberty of writing a few key elements into the issue, our authors were the primary world-builders. As supporting researcher, I tackled another key challenge, looking for credible projections from mainstream sources to feed the writers’ work. For example, at the Bureau of Labor Statistics I found projections on labor participation that assess the impact of a growing population that is both older and more diverse. Several authors wanted to flood various areas of the country, and we spent hours manipulating the Surging Seas Risk Zone Map to test their propositions. One of the hardest things to project is the rate of adoption of a given technology. Roy Amara at the Institute of the Future formulated Amara’s Law, which states that we tend to overestimate the impact of new technology in the short term, underestimate it in the long term. Many, many of the 2040 authors wrote about virtual reality—which, of course, is an exciting, shiny technology just beginning to come into its own. By 2040, will it be so embedded in our lives as to be unremarkable, still struggling to go mainstream, or will it have fizzled out? Read the issue to see what our authors envision for museums and VR.

Another challenge was maintaining internal consistency. Authors were given free rein to embellish this future, adding details in keeping with the spirit of the scenario’s parameters. This necessitated much tweaking as we tried to bring the details of different articles into alignment. At the twenty third-and-a-half hour, I was frantically texting authors from the airport as we tried to resolve contradictory statements regarding museum visitation in two of the features. I wouldn’t be surprised if a reader with an eye for detail finds inconsistencies we missed—please point them out.

My enduring thanks to all the authors who spent countless hours polishing their pieces (and for their patience with my suggested edits and tweaks.) There is a full list of their actual identities on page 54. I am particularly to Susie Wilkening for creating the two-page By The Numbers overview of this future and for helping me search for all sorts of credible “numbers” to flesh out our scenario. And I want to give a shout-out to all the advertisers who supported this unconventional issue, particularly those who played along with the scenario. You will see their visions of future products and services scattered throughout.

Museum 2040 is only the beginning of a much longer exploration of this and other potential futures. In coming months, I will use the CFM Blog to share additional content riffing on the New Equilibrium scenario: authors sharing the thought process behind their stories as well as additional future fiction. Some essays will explore interesting plot points appearing in the magazine stories, such as the link between universal basic income and citizen artists; potential museum uses for the open, secure, distributed digital ledgers supported by blockchain; and the role of museums in national reconciliation.   

You can play too! Enjoy the full issue, with our compliments, by downloading a free PDF copy here. In addition to reading and discussing the contents in your workplace, I encourage you to put your digital pen to paper and try your own hand at immersive future fiction. You can access a synopsis of the New Equilibrium scenario here, to inform your storytelling. Pitch your ideas using the comment section, below, or email me at emerritt (at) with the subject line Museum 2040.

As part of our tenth anniversary celebration, CFM will publish scenarios describing other potential futures—bright and dark, mainstream and unexpected—throughout 2018, together with a guide to using these stories as a tool for institutional planning. I look forward to helping you imagine the many ways these futures may play out, as well as the strategies museums will create to thrive no matter what comes.

Yours from the future,

Friday, October 20, 2017

Labor 3.0: Lights Out

What: automated "lights out" manufacturing
Why museums should care: disruptions to labor and increasing economic inequality impact our communities and our audiences, as well as museums' own financial bottom line.

Many researchers predict that automation will result in massive labor displacement over the next couple of decades. According to researchers at MIT, each robot added to US workplaces reduces the workforce by 5.6 humans, and every robot that is added per 1,000 human workers results in wages dropping by as much as 0.25 to 0.5 percent. Many of these robots are used in industrial manufacturing--making automobiles, manufacturing electronics or producing chemicals and plastics. Now artificial intelligence (AI) is fueling a new round of labor disruption in fields ranging from manufacturing and retail to law to medicine. A widely cited study from Oxford University projected that automation powered by AI will contribute to the loss of up to 47% of all jobs in the US in the next 20 years. 

As we contemplate a future with fewer solid  blue collar manufacturing jobs support a middle class, the spread of small scale, distributed, digital manufacturing has been hailed as one potential producer of new jobs. Digital design plus maker-friendly technologies such as 3-D scanning and printing fuel the creation of small businesses--and small businesses account for almost fifty percent of employment. But as the following video demonstrated, these small businesses are not immune to robotic labor disruption. 

Payroll can account for thirty percent of a small businesses gross income--what small business owner could resist the prospect of a robotic employee that can work 24 hours a day (supporting so-called "lights-out manufacturing"), doesn't require health insurance and doesn't take sick leave?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar: creating early interventions for deaccessioning crises

 Or, “when ethics statements are not enough…”

I’m working on the agenda for a convening hosted by the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, December 14-15, at which participants are going to try to come up with early warning systems and practical interventions for instances in which museums are being pressured to sell collections in order to balance the books.

Today’s post is a heads up about this gathering: if you are interested in helping tackle this challenge, put the dates on your calendar and watch for an announcement about registration, which will open later this month. I’m hoping you will comment on, share, and tweet about this post (use this link: to help my colleagues and me gauge how many people may be interested in attending.

There is already a clear consensus in our field that it is ethically wrong to use collections as a cash reserve (raiding the “deaccession cookie jar,” as Stephen Weil dubbed it in 1992). Field-wide standards codify Weil’s position, and the field has created a framework to support nuanced, ethical decisions regarding the use of funds from deaccessioning.”

But despite this consensus, every year it seems we read about a museum using or being pressured to use the sale of collections as a way to address financial needs. This happens for a variety of reasons. Some people simply disagree with the ethics standards. Some agree philosophically but feel they are faced with the choice of selling collections or closing the museum. How can we as a field provide museums with other, better choices?

That’s where this workshop comes in.

The Alliance is partnering with AAMD, AASLH, AAMG and NEMA* to bring folks together to frame out a practical toolkit that would help associations and peer institutions head off or intervene in such situations. How can our field create an “early warning system” to detect potential crises that might lead to inappropriate sales? What resources can we provide to help museums find other options to address their financial needs?

Here’s what we won’t do at this gathering: Revisit the ethical or legal strictures regarding the use of funds from the sale of deaccessioned collections. That topic was comprehensively reviewed by the Direct Care task force in 2015-2016, and continues to be addresses in sessions at various professional meetings.

Here is what we will do: Get people talking together and working together to create practical interventions that help reduce the instances of museums selling collections to meet financial needs.

We will prime our discussions with remarks from a few speakers from inside and outside the field, but the focus of this meeting will be on doing real work. Participants will split into small groups to generate ideas, and come together to share, discuss, and critique our compiled list of possible actions.

The Alliance will compile and share the outcomes of the convening—ideas for toolkits, scripts, or interventions—to help ensure museums have other, better financial options than selling collections.

See you in Cambridge?

*Association of Art Museum Directors, American Association for State and Local History, Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, New England Museum Association

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Museums in a Driverless Future

How many people get to your museum by driving their own cars? When they arrive, where do they park? If you are designing a new museum, or a renovation, what parking structures are included in your master plan? I hope today's post prompts you realize that the answers to all those questions may change radically in the next few decades, due to the rapid rise of self-driving cars.  

We've been envisioning driverless cars for decades--see this ad
from the 1950s, for example. But now they've gone from the realm of fiction

to real world use. 
Autonomous vehicles are already on the road in California, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Last week the US House of Representatives passed the SELF DRIVE Act with bipartisan support. If approved by the Senate, the bill would establish a federal framework for the regulation of self-driving cars in the US, facilitating local experimentation and accelerating adoption. Experts vary on when cars with some degree of autonomy will go mainstream. Credible estimates range from five years to two decades. A recent study by RethinkX forecast that by 2030, self-driving cars could cut car ownership by 80 percent. Any of these estimates lie within the timeline of planning for urban and museum infrastructure.

Cities are already thinking about how to use the bounty of space no longer devoted to parking. According to the research firm Gensler, the US has about 500 million parking spaces to serve 326 million people. Parking infrastructure covers an estimated 3,590 square miles, which as Gensler's researchers point out, is an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. What will we do with over two state's worth of newly available space, much of it in land-hungry urban areas?

Recently over 600 people gathered at the Skirball Center for the Driverless Future Challenge awards. A panel of New York City commissioners bestowed first place on Public Square--Reclaiming the Street, an entry submitted by FXFOWLE with Sam Schwartz Engineering. This concept (illustrated in the video below) proposes a modular system that can be used to convert parking spaces into green spaces, recreation spaces, retail, seating and other uses that suit the needs of particular neighborhoods. The architects describe this "plug-and-play" system as a way of enabling the public realm to be responsive to the ways we drive (or don't drive) in the future. 

What are the implications for our field? I venture to say that the rise of self-driving cars will affect most, if not all our institutions in one way or another. My thinking on the topic is shaped by the fact that two of the museums I worked at, early in my career, inherited freakishly large parking lots from the historic structures they colonized. The Children's Museum of Dartmouth, MA lived in an old dairy barn and previous owners, who had converted it to a restaurant, paved over a good acre or so for parking. Cincinnati Museum Center moved into that city's historic train terminal. Take a gander at THIS lot.

(Cincinnati's historic Union Terminal,
For scale, notice the teeeeeeny cars in the foreground)

It's worth spending some time envisioning how a car-free-ish future may change the landscape of your community, your museum's own campus, and who visits your museum. 

  • What will you do with the space formerly devoted to cars waiting for their owners' return? You might follow the lead of the Driverless Future Challenge, and invite your community to help re-envision your space. Think about other transportation trends as well--is your city adopting commercial bikeshare stations? If so, maybe you want to house a docking station on your grounds.
  • Do you currently depend on parking fees for part of your income, and what is the net profit, when you factor in the operating costs? You may want to find new use for the space that generates at least enough to cover this lost income.
  • How should you take autonomous driving into account in the long term plans for your campus, factoring in the uncertain timeline of adoption for this technology? You might want to focus on surface parking, which is relatively easy to redevelop. (Personally, I like to think that one day Union Terminal's lots will return to the verdant beauty of the gardens originally occupying this space.) Garages are more expensive to demolish, or convert, but architects are beginning to create parking garages designed to transition to other purposes--such as apartments. Maybe museums can design new parking structures designed to facilitate conversion for other use.
  • Driverless cars will increase the mobility of people who don't or can't drive--not only Millennials, many of whom already don't bother to get drivers licenses, but also people with mobility impairments, seniors who have stopped driving for health or safety reasons, and people too young to get a license. Museums may need policies, procedures, and staffing to accommodate unaccompanied children ("hey kids, you're driving me nuts. Call a car and go to the museum for the afternoon.") Ditto for visitors young or old with significant cognitive or mobility limitations. We already receive such visitors, of course, but autonomous transportation may amplify their numbers  to the point where our response needs to be significantly different as well. Maybe museums will shift some staff displaced by automation over to visitor services, and provide personal escorts for anyone, young or old, who requires personal assistance. 

And a further futurist note...
The Driverless Future Challenge was organized by Blank Space--an online platform dedicated to "challenging architecture to rethink its role in society." I commend Blank Space's Fairy Tale Challenge to your attention as well. This annual competition solicits short stories and artwork that explore the power of architecture to shape the future. The entries are often surreal, provocative, and inspiring and serve as wonderful illustrations for the Cone of Plausibility encompassing our future cities.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

No Walls, New Ways: Giving up the Building to Connect and Create

Hi, Nicole here! When the Floating Museum project came across our scanning feeds, Elizabeth Merritt and I were both excited by the concept. We wanted to know more about the project and how it re-imagines where museums can do their work. The team at the Floating Museum asked  independent curator Leslie Guy to share her thoughts about the project with us. Here, Guy explores the power of responsiveness and the importance of believing in community wisdom.

The city as a museum: The Floating Museum on Chicago River
Since 2015, the Floating Museum has developed a series of temporary, site responsive installations around Chicago.  Working with local artists, historians, and organizations, this collective’s work critiques conventional museum ideology while fostering community engagement and dialogue. This Chicago-based artistic collaborative activates sites designed to elevate and enhance the cultural potential of its neighborhoods.  Each of these site-specific activations is an equal exchange of knowledges, insights, perspectives, and expertise between the artistic collaborative and local stakeholders.  Their work embraces the unknown at a time when the scarcity of funding incentivizes safe programming with predictable outcomes.  There is significant risk in being unconventional when the funding community is more apt to support traditional, amply-resourced and well-established organizations.  But, creativity and innovation flourish in spaces that can accept ambiguity and encourage the pursuit of the seemingly impossible.


   Stakeholder conversation: Planning meeting at Southside Community Art Center

         Stakeholder Conversation: Chicago Teacher’s Union

The Floating Museum is a collecting institution with holdings ranging from items donated by the community and  works made by contemporary artists to images of objects owned by other repositories.   The artifacts that comprise the Floating Museum’s collection are valued for the meanings that have accreted over time through their use and reinterpretation. The valuation of items in the collections is non-hierarchical; preference is given to the meaning conferred from the multiple exchanges and social interaction between the maker and the collector. Ultimately, the items in the collection are physical manifestations of the  social network that enables the collective’s project.    
Project Onward: Donation from artist Adam Elias Hines

The Floating Museum’s structures change in response to its environment.  Its forms have ranged from a barge floating on the Chicago River, to temporary  edifices in a local park, to a mutable  activation in a museum. Each of these was created to house the activities and knowledges peculiar to the given locale. The Museum’s projects resonate beyond the duration of the activation, as every interaction alters the collaborative. The team’s process of change, comparable to the formation of recombinant DNA, is precise, deliberate and intentional. Information gleaned from new, creative community partnerships is incorporated into the structure and knowledge base of the Floating Museum. The exact result of the each incorporation is not always clear. What is known is that incorporating new concepts and respecting seemingly divergent ways of knowing not only strengthens the collaborative’s work but also ensures that it remains viable and relevant.
Project expansion: Impact schematics  

In an effort to broaden their constituencies, many museums have relied heavily upon educational and public outreach programs designed to draw visitors to the museum building.  As an alternative to this strategy, mobile museums have offered methods of community outreach that can meet people where they are. But, while a mobile museum can successfully address geographic and economic barriers to access, the more complex issues of content, context and message can remain. The Floating Museum works to address these issues by embedding itself within community and by situating their practice at the nexus of challenges. And, this engagement in turn fuels the creative output of the collective.     

Imagining Structures: Illinois Institute of Technology students
in a class taught by Floating Museum Co-Director Faheem Majeed

Museums in Neighborhoods

“[The neighborhood museum]  encompasses the life of the people of the neighborhood -- people who are vitally concerned about who they are, where they come from, what they have accomplished, their values and their pressing needs.”   -- John Kincaid speaking on the formation of the Anacostia Museum in Storefront to Monument:  Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement by Andrea A. Burns

Chicago  is a complex and diverse city encompassing 237 square miles  and home to 2.6 million inhabitants living in 77 officially designated community areas. Despite the vastness of city, Chicago’s  major cultural institutions are concentrated in close proximity to its renowned lakefront.  The majority of the city’s 100 distinct neighborhoods exist beyond this narrow geographic region.        
Austin park: Youth engage in a building exercise
Inspired by the Black Museum Movement and models like the Kunstverlein, the Floating Museum began their first community activation in the Austin neighborhood of the city.  The impact of the work of Dr. Margaret Burroughs - a pivotal force in the Black Museum Movement, founder of two community-based institutions in Chicago,  and a mentor to two members of the Floating Museum - resonates within the work of this collective.    

In her writing about museums and location Sophie Forgan reflects, “While the respectability of institutional buildings, at least, lends credibility to the  knowledge embedded within museum displays and activities,  there are other aspects that may be examined.   A site may be acquired and a suitable edifice erected, but the resulting building is rarely isolated from its context and may be affected by the type and reputation of the neighboring urban elements.” Moving throughout Chicago and intentionally operating outside of the established cultural corridor, the work of the Floating Museum confronts conventional ideas about situational value and the primacy of locale in order to provide an innovative platform for the creative output of neighborhoods.

Austin park: Young residents use sticks and tape
to create a new museum structure

The Floating Museum collective includes Andrew Schachman, Avery R Young, Faheem Majeed and Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford. The Museum will be presenting a new installation in September 2017 for Singing Stones, a group exhibition curated by the Palais de Tokyo’s Katell Jaffres as part of the first Hors Les Murs in the United States.