On Appealing to Creators and Lurkers

The Participatory Museum is perhaps one of the most useful reads we have had so far. I appreciate that Nina Simon has thoroughly developed design models surrounding types/ levels of participation, but also spews out basic brainstorming around each of the types to get the ball rolling for readers and perhaps spawn creativity in translating the case studies and levels of interactivity into their own institutions.

Firstly, I love the idea of “multi-directional content experiences.” It seems common sense that not every museum visitor should have the same experience or take-away from their visit. In fact, even if this is what the institution was aiming for it would be impossible since every visitor has their own unique set of experiences, values, preferences, that shape their understanding. Why, then, is there so often a single narrative and direction in which to follow it? The idea, then, of “opportunities for diverse visitor co-produced experiences” to me reads like a choose-your-own-adventure story. I find it thrilling and democratizing that visitors should shape their own experience in the place, and even more so when Simon considers the ways in which an individual visitor’s actions can shape the experiences of other visitors in the me-to-we vein.

I also appreciated Simon’s different types of web participants and how that could translate to an institution. Not everyone is a creator, some choose to consume media as spectators, other simply like to lurk. Further, these identities should be structured as a continuum, or a fluid identity that changes between moments, platforms, subjects, etc. I also liked that in encouraging increased opportunity for participation in museums, Simon continuously reminds us that we shouldn’t simply replace the rigorous content-driven approach with co-curated level 5 interactivity, but to create opportunities for each type depending on the preference of the users. Another idea we have previously discussed that reappeared in this reading is the idea of dissonance, and productively using it as an opportunity to advance dialogue. My favorite example of dissonance here was the use of profiling/division as a tool, in separating visitors to the Apartheid Museum upon entry. This could be used in institutions with missions related to race, gender, or other types of identity that have been politicized at certain points in time. It needs to be used gently as does create discomfort, but I think the dissonance can be particularly useful in helping visitors understand the discomfort that certain individuals experience(d) daily. I think this goes beyond the passport/nametag approach that tries to encourage identification with historical figures on a surface level.

Like Katrina, I tremendously enjoyed the scaffolding model for encouraging participation in a guided manner. It seems odd that a blank canvas is more daunting than a coloring book page, especially to sophisticated audiences of cultural institutions, but the guided-participation approach is more productive for both the institution and the visitor. I think one aspect in which it is more useful for the institution is that it stays relevant to the theme or learning objective of the exhibit it corresponds to, ensuring that its later incorporation or display (which Simon points out is an integral part of developing the participatory model into the higher stages) remains relevant, educational, dialogic, etc. for the institution and later (perhaps returning) visitors.

I was drawn to the “I like museums” trails, and I think it is an important lesson in curation vs. contribution. While originally the editors/staff created trails surrounding specific interests, visitor types, location, etc., the ability for the museum-going public to contribute their own trails not only creates interactivity between visitors with different interests but contributes to a deeper understanding to the value of institutions to unexpected visitors. If there isn’t an American version of this I think there should be. I also liked the paper approach in museums which is easily replicable. I think one of the insights I gained from Simon is that every participatory initiative need not be an expensive, time-consuming, digital platform, but can be similarly accomplished in simple traditional ways such as brochures of different guided tours depending on your mood, “talk to me about stickers,” a plywood advice booth, physical “punch cards” on a wall, sticky notes, and voting booths. An institutional model I gained a lot of insight from was the idea of different levels or types of memberships, which allow visitors to customize their own interactions with the institution and gain a certain experience from them depending on their desires or interests. I think this could be easily applied to the focus groups and behind-the-scenes experiences Simon mentions, but could also be useful in more “risky” encounters such as the dialogue series we have mentioned in class.

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