I was invited to lead a Masterclass on digital thinking for museums at the SIME-SITEM Conference in Paris, 26 January 2013. The trip also enabled me to do research into recent French innovations in mobile experiences at the Louvre and Quai Branly museum.
Held every year in the Carousel du Louvre (the convention space below the Louvre), SIME-SITEM is France’s largest museum conference and trade fair.
Because the language of the conference and the masterclass is French, I asked some French museum colleagues to lend a hand in presenting their views on the question, “Is innovation possible in museums?” My slides are here and below is a quick English summary of the key points we touched on. Attendees LiveGiving.tv kindly videoed the session which you can watch (in French) here.
I opened with this funny video of animatronic dinosaurs in the Queensland Australia Museum of Natural History to reference the common criticism that museums are ‘dinosaurs’ when it comes to innovation and technology. Inspired yet again by the excellent keynotes of the 2009 Smithsonian 2.0 conference, I reiterated Bran Ferran’s provocative question, “Are museums just a fad?” In the age of digitization where terabyte hard-drives are becoming standard issue, can the Smithsonian be more than a “bunch of old stuff”?
The panelists asked if, precisely because of their mission and responsibility to conserve, museums are not structurally preconditioned to be conservative and even incapable of rapid change and innovation. Or – as the Smithsonian was asked to do in its 2009 conference – is there indeed a way that museums can use new technology and the cultural practices that are emerging with them to radically reimagine the role of the museum in the 21st century?
Opening presentation by Nancy Proctor (14h-14h55)
Innovation in museums (15h-15h45)
In contrast to global ‘virtual’ publics, the physical spaces of the museum attract and serve a minority of its visitors today; nonetheless, the presentation and maintenance of those ‘real world’ collections and experiences garner the vast majority of the museum’s resources. Four experts discuss how technology and redress this imbalance and broaden the in-gallery experience to reach new audiences with increased possibilities for participation.
- Agnès Vincent, producer, multi-media manager
- Simon Houriez, educator, director of Signes de Sens, a firm using technology to increase museum accessibility
- Vincent Puig, Centre Pompidou, executive director of IRI, the Institute of Research and Innovation
- Roland Topalian, Cité des Sciences, multimédia designer and head of visitor experiences
Innovation online and off (16h-16h45)
We may expect to find the most innovative museum experiences online, but too often the online museum feels like a pale imitation of the ‘real’ one. How can museums go beyond digital copying to creating truly new and innovative means of experiencing collections that open the museum to broader engagement?
- Geneviève Vidal, professor and researcher at LabSic, the University of Paris 13
- Gilles Duffau, Cinémathèque française, director of new media
- Yves-Armel Martin, director of Erasme, digital innovation center
Closing roundtable discussion.
After the conference, several of the attendees invited me to the a “Museogeeks” dinner: the weekly meet-up for museum professionals. This dedicated and energetic group from museums and cultural organizations across Paris visits a local museum every week since 2011 and then has dinner and drinks afterwards to discuss their experiences. Their example inspired me to introduce monthly (I am not so ambitious or energetic as they) visits for our Smithsonian “Welcome Wednesday” mobile meet-up groups to local museums.
I was particularly grateful for the invitations from Museogeek regulars to visit and try out mobile experiences in their museums: Quai Branly, the Louvre, and Musée Cluny. To them all I say: La prochaine tournée est la mienne!