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  • chrislarry 3:37 am on October 12, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , participatory museum,   

    A great summary of some of the museum fields best thinkers discussing participatory culture.


    • chrislarry 3:41 am on October 12, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      might be interesting if some of you posted comments directly on the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s blog.

  • chrislarry 7:35 pm on October 4, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , participatory museum,   

    Nina Simon pos-book discussion thread: Putting theory into practice 

    As we discussed in class we will use this thread (and this thread alone, just “reply”) to discuss our reactions to Participatory Museum, especially in relation to Nina’s new role as Director of the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, CA.

    Here are some links that details this work that you should read to prompt a discussion of her ideas as presented in the book, and now her short track record as director.

    Cover article feature in Good Times Santa Cruz magazine


    Some of her Museum 2.0 blog posts releative to her new(ish) job (pick some that look interesting to you)

    On Saying Yes: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2011/09/on-saying-yes.html

    Does Your Audience Really Need to be Hip: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2011/09/does-your-institution-really-need-to-be.html

    Fundraising as Participatory Experience: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2011/09/fundraising-as-participatory-practice.html

    Public Service http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2011/07/public-service-advocacy-and.html

    Empowering Staff to Take Creative Risks: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2011/05/empowering-staff-to-take-creative-risks.html

    Find your own!

    • Pam Schwartz 11:26 pm on October 5, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      In keeping with her book Simon makes an interesting comment in reply to other readers’ comments on her more recent blog post:


      She states, “We need to be more than just field trip places to check off certain standards–we need to be part of the bigger conversation about what it means to be educated, to learn, and to have access to the tools necessary to do so. I suspect this is the big problem that most museums are most comfortable tackling as education has been core to the mission for so long. ”

      It might be what museums are most comfortable with but is it something they are truly excelling at? Are museums becoming just field trip spots or are we going beyond that to become participatory, learning institutions that visitors take something away from after their initial visit?

      Also in the post about Saying Yes, I think its interesting that Nina shifts from talking about visitors participating in the institution to the institution participating in the community and the most effective ways to do that. I feel museums will find themselves asking the same questions about how to do this as what they ask in the most effective way to get visitors to participate.

      • sdaugherty28 9:37 pm on October 10, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        I think Simon brings up a really good point about museums only being field trips. When I was younger, we went to the Metropolitan, the Museum of Natural History, and the Liberty Science Center. These field trips were something already planned; all fourth graders went to the Met. In these days, I was not the museum enthusiast that I am today. I saw these field trips as formalities rather than educational opportunities. I do not think I was given the right context to take full advantage of our visit. With that being said, I think most museums are making efforts to become more participatory. I saw this firsthand at the Art Institute of Chicago (see October 10th blogpost)

    • haljust 5:44 pm on October 6, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I found this quote interesting in the interview that Simon had with Dunn:

      “I want a bumper sticker that says “I Heart Small Museums.” I’ve spent my whole career in mid-sized and large museums, where it takes five meetings just to change a wall color. Here at the MAH, we’ve made some big changes with a five-minute conversation. We only have seven people on staff, which means we can function as a team in a very personal, active way. Like any small company, we can innovate faster. We can be scrappy. We can take risks. And I believe that means we are going to become a leading institution in this new world of audience participation.”

      Does this mean that many mid-sized and large museums will just never fully be able to incorporate participation in their museums? If it takes so much time to vote on a new wall color or any kind of change in the museum, how will incorporating participation become a realization. It would take an incredible amount of time and many museum employees might just not want participation in their museums. So does this mean that only smaller museums will be able to incorporate participation. Is their size the reason for success in community participation?

      I also found this viewer’s comment very interesting:

      “What an appalling piece of self-serving claptrap. This egomaniac is only out to serve her own ends–doesn’t know diddle about local history, or art for that matter. It’s the Museum of Dumb-and-Dumber. It’s only participatory if you agree with Her Highness! What a shame.”

      He/she must have a pure hatred towards Simon or just hates to participate. I just don’t think that this person knows how much Simon has helped this museum.

      • chrislarry 5:59 pm on October 6, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Wow nice find, sounds like a laid off staffer or volunteer that no longer felt like they had a place their. Definitely has personel taste to the bile. I am sure her approach ruffles feathers and causes a few enemies along the way. True innovators draw passionate responses (See Jobs eulogies) Anyway H8trs gonna H8 right?

      • Pam Schwartz 5:52 pm on October 7, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        I’ve worked in several small museums and a few large and I don’t think the size necessarily denotes how fast things can be done. Small museums are usually able to work faster (less people who need to agree) but I’ve also seen small institutions with WAY TOO MUCH red tape. Smaller museums (often less crowded) I feel have an easier time implementing participatory exhibitions/activities because of volume, or possible lack there of.

        Sounds to me somebody’s ideas were scorned in lieu of Simon’s.

    • melbump 1:37 am on October 7, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      One of the underlying themes in Nina Simon’s book, blog and actions as Director at MAH, is to take risks and trust in others. In order to encourage participation you have to have confidence in the participants. Whether it is allowing visitors to leave messages on notes, encouraging photography, or saying yes to community partnerships, Nina’s philosophy requires trust that participants will not abuse the offers. “Effective collaborations are built on mutual trust, shared understanding of the project’s goals, and clear designation of participant roles.” (Simon, pg 232)

      Many of the elements Nina discusses challenge the current established rules, and policies set by many museums. Some of the projects Simon discusses in her book can be perceived as controversial, relying heavily on the visitor’s voice, and incorporation of new community groups. These ideas force museums to relinquish some perceived control to visitor contribution.
      “One of the most frequent concerns staff members voice about contributory platforms is the fear that visitors will create content that reflects poorly on the institution… Fundamentally, this concern is about loss of control.” (Simon, pg 222.) “The U.S. is getting younger and more diverse and our audiences are going in the opposite direction. That doesn’t bode well for the future of museums. The answer is to create genuinely compelling, on-mission programming that is relevant to younger audiences.” Good Times Santa Cruz interview.

      As Simon expresses in her blog, it is not always easy to take risks and say “yes” all the time. It was interesting being able to see Nina Simon’s reaction to taking her own advise in blog post “On-saying yes.”
      “Being nimble and open to a bit of chaos is a luxury that comes with being a small institution on a mission to be a community hub. It’s exciting to have someone approach us on a Tuesday with a great idea for Saturday, and as much as possible, we try to say yes.” -“I can see how it gets easy for an organization to get in the habit of starting from “no” instead of “yes.” Chaos can be stressful.” “I don’t want to get there. I believe that we’re doing our best work when we are able to say yes to people who walk in the door with good ideas and real community needs to be met. And I feel like we’re most fresh and dynamic when we can keep being responsive to the next idea.”

      I found the Participatory Museum an inspiring book and I hope to incorporate many of Nina’s philosophies into my actions as a museum professional.

      • Pam Schwartz 5:57 pm on October 7, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        In going with your comments about worrying that a visitor will create content that reflects poorly on the museum… I feel in the past many museum employees have sort of stood in the background. They want to create the content and hide in the office while visitors view it. This has suited them just fine. Visitor content can make a world of difference and often spice up an exhibition experience for others, but often employees don’t want to take the time to instruct and/or moderate.

        Many museum employees are often underpaid and overworked so nobody wants to take on the extra responsibility of screening visitor comments or submissions, but I also don’t think they understand how valuable it can be to actually step out of the office and become engaged with your visitors (you know, the reason you created the exhibition in the first place.)

    • vshoffner 8:29 pm on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I thoroughly enjoyed The Participatory Museum, as well as Nina Simon’s blog Museum 2.0. I plan to continue following her writings on the blog even after our class is over.

      I enjoyed reading the article from Good Times Santa Cruz magazine in which she is asked how to initiate a shift from the typical white/older audience demographics for museums. She responds by saying:
      “The answer is not to package traditional museum offerings in some slick marketing lingo to entice the young folk. The answer is to create genuinely compelling, on-mission programming that is relevant to younger audiences. For example, this September, we’re partnering with Santa Cruz NEXT on an event called Race Through Time. It’s an urban scavenger hunt where people go out on bikes on a Friday night to try to find as many hidden historic landmarks in Santa Cruz as they can. This kind of event lines up 100 percent with our mission to connect people to local history. We’re just doing it in a different way, at a different time of day, with bikes and (post-biking) beer.”

      I then read the “Does Your Audience Really Need to Be Hip” post on her blog about the Race Through Time event and how it went. In it she states that the results were slightly unexpected. The event did attract a younger audience in their 20s and 30s than usual. But she also noticed that it attracted elderly couples in their 70s and grandparents with their grandchildren. She wrote: “there was also the couple in their 70s who told me this was the most fun they’d ever had on a Friday night in Santa Cruz. And from my perspective, it was this diversity that made the event unique–and made me rethink the way that cultural professionals typically approach audience development.”

      I appreciate the way she is so adaptive to things and willing to change her perspective when things turn out differently than she expects. I also appreciate the fact that she is willing to share that with us on her blog, and we learn as she lives through the trial and errors of implementing the ideas in her book.
      She poses these interesting questions at the end of this blog post: “Do our institutions really need to be hip to be successful? Or do they just need to be welcoming, open, comfortable places that offer a diversity of experience? What do you think?”

      I found a link to several interesting PowerPoint presentations by Simon here

      I also found her post titled “An Open Letter to Museums on Twitter” from 2008 to be still relevant and interesting. It includes a list of suggestions that may improve the way museums think about twitter.
      I particularly like suggestions 4 – Tell me something I can’t find on your homepage, and 6 – Respond to people.

    • ktkeckeisen 10:35 pm on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      One thing I’d love to see Simon actually talk about is how to be a “risk-taker” in a non-risk-taking museum. We brought up this issue in our class discussion a few weeks ago; about how some museums will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. In the book and on her blog she really pushes for the museum to have free thinkers and to take risks and try new things; shake things up as it were. But there are plenty of places, both small and large, that have staff that were trained under a totally different system of museum studies. I’ve had a few discussions with Stephanie about this, since she works at the National Park Service-controlled Washington’s Headquarters and how hard it is to get people to do some of the simple things that Simon advocates.

      When I read “Empowering Staff to Take Creative Risks”, I felt that this was a little bit of what I was hoping Simon would talk about. In this blog post, she address that to be a risk-taker, you need a space-maker to have your back, to stand up and vouch for you when the powers-that-be start to question what you’re doing. But, what happens if you want to shake things up and pretty much everyone is pushing against you?

      Her museum in Santa Cruz seems really neat and cool and hip, and I think she’ll do a great job here. But when, in her blog she asks people who say they don’t have this type of support system why they stay, I would say it is because this type of museum, where people seem to really want to push the envelope is the exception, not the rule. Call me pessimistic, but I think it takes a lot of time and energy to get a more traditional (read: staunch) museum to become more invested in participation from the community. I’m even finding it hard, as a Registrar-in-training, to re-train my brain to understand how a museum wouldn’t mostly be centered around the objects and their care. That was the main question rolling through my head while I was reading the book: “Wow, that sounds cool! But how the hell would you make that work in any other museum?”

      So, that’s the next thing I’d like her to tackle in some form, be it blog or book: how do you start to take these sorts of participatory risks in a museum that sees “risks” as a dirty word?

    • erinlbradford 7:07 pm on October 9, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      After reading Simon’s book and her blog I think she has a lot of great ideas and intentions in designing participatory and interactive exhibits and making museums and communities more relevant to each other. It was a whole new approach and outlook for me to read about her thoughts and concepts, as a hopefully future registrar my focus is primarily on objects so this is truly a different world to understand. So running the risk of playing devil’s advocate I guess I will choose to disagree on something I read in the posted links.

      I disagree on her program she discussed called “Creativity Under the Influence”. In her blog post discussing the “Race Through Time” event Simon said:

      “But we also saw something else: parents and teenagers, grandparents and grandkids, elderly couples, out for a fun scavenger hunt evening. Yes, there was the 40-ish lawyer who effused that she’d never seen so many young people in the museum before. But there was also the couple in their 70s who told me this was the most fun they’d ever had on a Friday night in Santa Cruz. And from my perspective, it was this diversity that made the event unique–and made me rethink the way that cultural professionals typically approach audience development.”

      So for one event it was the diversity that drew in success because Simon didn’t really discuss what the people took away from the event just that a large amount of diverse people came out for the event and she thought it was successful or ‘unique’. And I would agree I think that sounds like an amazing program that ties into the mission of the museum, intriguing the community and has participatory elements. But for “Creativity Under the Influence” a museum programmer is targeting a specific (legal) age group being over twenty-one. So that diversity of getting parents and children out to this program is gone. And Dunn (the interviewer) commented that

      (In referencing First Friday)
      Dunn: “To be honest, it was the promise of beer and wine that got me out.”
Simon: Hence the increase in programs we’re doing that will include them. We’re doing a four-part series this fall called Creativity Under the Influence that invites people to drink and draw—to pair wine with art. If we want to be a social place, we have to provide social amenities as part of the experience.

      I am unsure of how measure the success of a program like this aside from looking at attendance and numbers – maybe by the amount of work that is created? So I guess I would need to know more about the program with what the museum will do with the art and how these people will be associated with it after the event. Simon mentioned that a lot people do not retain information from reading exhibit labels… I don’t retain a lot of things when I’m drunk. The program seems like an endeavor to get people to come to the museum and interested in the programs but does not offer the same prospects as the “Race Through Time” program might and other programs that she has mentioned. I get the concept of getting people out into the museum’s programs and fusing art and a social atmosphere – maybe its the title that I am hung up on that the museum is encouraging a program that lets people drink and then acknowledges that because of the popularity of the activity of drinking there will be more programs that will have it. So I agree and enjoy Simon’s readings apart from this one idea. Like I said before this is a whole new idea for me so sometimes I still feel like an outsider in understanding the concepts. I guess my disagreement stems primarily from the fact that I think she is creative and smart enough to create programming with more substance and not something that will just get people to come to drink because its offered.

      • sdaugherty28 12:06 am on October 13, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        I agree, Erin. I was quite skeptical when I read about “Creativity under the Influence.” In her interview with Hunn, Simon states that if you want the museum to be a social place, you must provide social amenities.

        This makes me wonder what the larger goal is: Should a museum be social, participatory, or both?

        However, I think I would have to go to this kind of event in order to judge it.

    • lleamuseum 5:27 pm on October 10, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Nina Simon Blog

      Throughout all of her work Nina promotes acceptance, guidance and encouragement. Working to provide a space that allows the exploration of thoughts around many ideas or projects. All inclusive! And I question is it too much all the time? After having read the articles, specifically about “On saying Yes” and “Empowering Staff to take Creative Risks” it seems that she has ideas that are great and push the needs of our 2.0 society, but as what expense?

      The best contexts to what I am asking can only be observed in time as she transitions from her role as consultant to Director. It is a little easier to come in, develop a project and rally a team around that project. The staff feels rejuvenated and passionate about new and different ideas. However people often lack endurance. Or sometimes they just simply need a rest. Nina seems to be blessed with the ability to go hard all the time. And I wonder when you rely on a group effort where the common ground is. What will be the sustainability of her drive, her staffs and ability to support both?

      She spoke in the article titled “encouraging staff” that she initially took the “blame me” approach. Wow that is tuff and at the same time easy when you are on a contract and can walk away at some point. She has since been conversing with herself and others to figure out better or more effective approaches, and challenges us to question what type of leader we are.

      When I first read that article my initial reaction was take a hike. Having to go on a hike especially with other people who have different learning styles, comfort levels and communication abilities will really give a person perspective on how to lead people ( see attached photo). We should realize that while we have common goals there are different approaches to getting there.

      I feel perhaps we sometimes need to camouflage ourselves to what type of leader we need to be rather than what we want to be. In other words what helps to get all people on board. Some people do better if a project is discussed one to one while others are ok and thrive in a group. I am really interested and would almost like to be a fly on the wall to see the reaction of the staff in the long run. It is great to have a strong charismatic leader and that is often what drives a group. However the encouragement, guidance and acceptance to the staff long term, I feel is key! Equal to the participant!

      I also think it’s funny that when you Google her name she gets mixed in with Nina Simone the Queen of jazz soul. Boogie on down Museums!

    • sarahadlis 1:24 am on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      As pretty much everyone else has indicated, I really enjoyed The Participatory Museum. Simon does such a great job of writing clearly and conversationally, and provides excellent examples to back up her more theoretical, hard to understand points. I’ll definitely be taking this book with me into the professional world.

      Of the blog links above, the one that got me thinking the most was her comment on saying ‘yes’. I agree with her statement that you should say yes whenever possible- to an extent. I love the idea of museums being able to partner with as many outside as groups as possible in order to further create bonds within the community, making museums increasingly more relevant to ever-larger portions of the population. Simon brings up logistical issues such as budget, over-involvement with other parties, space, etc. as possible reasons to say no, but she doesn’t really touch on the issue of institutional mission. For example, I’ve been looking into the South Orange Public Library recently, and their programming schedule reads very much like they’re embracing a “come one, come all” sort of philosophy in regards to pairing with groups of people and organizations; they host regularly scheduled meetings for everything the expected kid’s reading hour to Lego Group and Craft Hour. http://www.youseemore.com/southorange/calendar.asp

      The library, much like many museums, is a public institution geared toward community involvement. However, it is in the library’s mission statement to “programs for all ages that encourage reading, and provide intellectual stimulation and cultural enrichment “, meaning that their opportunities for partnership and diverse programming options is hampered only by the practical concerns that Simon referred to. Legos have nothing to do with books, but if the library has the space and staff to host Lego Team meetings, it is perfectly within their mission to provide Lego programming. Unlike the South Orange Public Library, many museums do not have the directive or latitude within their mission to form partnerships or programming for organizations thematically unrelated to the museum’s content. I would guess that children’s museums and science centers would be the best equipped to partner with outside groups due to often community-geared missions, but what about private art museums? Specific history museums? I once worked at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which deals with the life, death and legacy of JFK, and while they partner with other museums to provide programming for students, bring in speakers from the community to talk about the local consequences of the Kennedy assassination, and partner with local law enforcement to present a ‘CSI’ style program, I can’t imagine them partnering with a group as unconnected to Kennedy as a Lego Team.

      Is it the responsibility of all museums to partner with as many organizations as they can in order to create a community center? Should museums say ‘no’ if a partnership doesn’t seem to connect thematically with the museum? In order to prevent this problem and make saying ‘yes’ as easy as securing all the practicalities, should all museum missions include a clause about community involvement and service?

    • allysonjo7787 2:28 am on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Like so many of my classmates, reading Nina Simon’s “Participatory Museum” was enjoyable but also eye opening. I liked the way Simon repeatedly tied in the way staff members could participate in the given topic. Simon wrote, ” When staff members are grounded in the institutional mission and feel supported by management, they are able to creatively and confidently explore participatory techniques in ways that benefit the institution, visitors, and themselves.” (pg. 201) For someone who doesn’t necessarily understand technology, Simon does a wonderful job giving examples if ways, as a museum employee, I will be able to utilize the techniques she writes about in this book. I might not ever be in a position to develop a program for visitors, but some of the ways that Simon recognizes staff members can get involved in museum and visitor participation will be helpful down the road.

      The Co-development projects, under two kinds of collaboration, is another example of Simon’s emphasis on staff member participation.She describes Co-development projects as, “staff members work together with participants to produce new exhibitions and programs.” (pg. 235). The extent of staff participation controls the outcomes of these new exhibitions and programs. Simon notes that these projects are best completed when they are developed with a specific framework, but are to serve larger audiences.

      Simon even writes about the troubles she had with staff member participation at the San Jose Museum of Art. It was nice change of pace to read about the author having troubles, and writing about what could have been done, in hind sight, to make the overall experience better. I decided to take a look at the San Jose Museum of Art website, http://www.sjmusart.org/, and at first glance it reminded me of MoMA’s. It’s very sleek and sharp and has a very white contrasting background. When clicking through the collection the variety of pieces was attractive and caught my attention.

      I think this is an interesting thought for all museums. Their websites are the first place a visitor is going to “enter” the museum. What gives for the white background with bright colors? Are they specific to modern museums? Or are they sending a message of pure art and nothing else? I find that I judge some places, beyond museums, based on their website. They couldn’t hire someone to develop a normal website? Yikes, they must be in some sort of financial situation. Or some higher up gave the okay for this to be published? Anyways, I think it’s something to think about. Maybe museums think more about their websites than I give them credit for, or know. But I think it is something worth looking more in to.

    • sdaugherty28 1:21 am on October 13, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I think reading “The Participatory Museum” was worthwhile. Simon is passionate about making museums more participatory by helping visitors feel comfortable sharing their views. This book has helped me think about exhibitions and museum events in a whole different light. While I was never against participation, I did not consider how many different ways visitors could engage with a museum. Simon provided a variety of examples from different institutions; however, I would have liked to see more discussion on historic houses and history museums. Although Simon provided detailed examples from art museums and science centers, I had a hard time envisioning these examples at my institution (Morristown National Historical Park). In other words, I would have liked to see more elaboration on making historic house museum tours and static exhibits more participatory.

      With that being said, I absolutely love Simon’s enthusiasm. Like Allyson, I also admired her discussion on staff member participation. The staff is the face of the museum. Often, I notice guards and front desk receptionists half heartedly invite you to the museum and don’t bother to inform you of special opportunities or exhibitions. On the other hand, the man that took my ticket at the Art Institute of Chicago was delightful. He gave us a map, directions, recommendations, etc. He genuinely seemed excited that we were visiting the museum that day. This positive encounter was a great way to start my visit.

      Simon’s blogpost on audience development was insightful. While events or exhibitions may target a specific audience, it is important NOT to exclude crowds. Museums are not about bringing one type of person together, but rather cultivating a diverse experience for all to share.

      Simon’s book and blog bring up valuable discussions in the museum field. I will continue to follow her blog and take what I have learned to my future job.

      Similarly, I have to admire the actions SImon took as the Director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz. She avoided a financial crisis and even took a salary reduction along with her staff. She’s a tough cookie!

    • corilinville 12:24 am on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I wanted to wait until i went until after the MAAM conference to write my blog post because she was speaking and I wanted to see if she was going to see anything that was going to be way off the mark of her book or blog.
      Saying that, I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was really a worthwhile read and I did not realize while i was reading it but it was not until i was actually in museums how much it had affected my mindset. When i would go to a museum where there was no participatory element I would actually make a comment about it because they do seem more important now that I have read the book. Though I think it does depend on what kind of museum it is. A children’s museum or a science museum needs different elements than a history museum or a historical park. I was actually talking to another student, who isn’t in this class but who is in the program, and we kept going back and forth about how participatory elements just were not acceptable for the Holocaust museum. I was trying to explain that there are different kinds of participation that can go on but he just was not having it, and seeing Nina’s presentation as your first impression probably did not help in wanting to change that view. I told him he should read the book.
      Now looking as Nina as a director she isnt so much into talking about just participatory but talking about change in general and the workings of a museum. In the lecture she started the slide show off with “Hi, my name is Nina and I want to change museums”. Very simple and straight to the point. I was ready for the next hour of Nina talk, which was filled with lots of quotes. My two favorite being- “from being about something, to being for someone, to being someone”- Stephen Weil. which is how she feels about the museum she is at right now. I feel like this is a great motto. And then the second quote being- “well behaved women rarely make history”. She also talked about the space maker –> risk-taker idea that she has, which she also talks about in this blog entry.
      And one lady who did not seem very happy actually asked Nina a question at the end of the lecture about if all museums should be participatory because she believed that history museums should NOT be and Nina replied with it really just depends on the museum but that she believed participation is positive.

      • klparman 8:59 pm on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        I think that topics like the Holocaust are really great opportunities for participation. A lot of people are confused about their feelings and are often in disbelief about humanity and history. Museums can be really great institutions and spaces for people to deal with these emotions and to explore the events of the Holocaust. It would be a safe environment for everyone to explore ideas and I think that’s really important about participation. People will feel comfortable and hopefully learn something about their own feelings and ideas surrounding something like genocide.

    • klparman 9:27 pm on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      One of the things I enjoyed most reading Nina’s book and blog posts is how accessible she had made herself and her ideas, not only by putting her whole book on her website, but also how she writes. Because she truly believes in the benefits of participatory museum experiences, she writes her ideas for anyone in a museum, not just directors. In a truly participatory manner, she opens herself up to criticism and feedback. She is willing to say, “yeah I really didn’t do a very good job at that for this reason and this is what I should have done and you can do it too.” In her new role, she is still struggling to make the right decisions for herself and her institution. She wants other museum professionals to realize their dreams and also realize that other people are struggling with the same things.

      I think it is really effective to bring people together around these struggles. Sometimes museum professionals may not be receiving adequate support from their institutions and may need some additional support from the broader community of museum professionals (like in Nina’s blog post “Empowering Staff to Take Creative Risks”). Nina has created a place for this and this is perhaps one of her most interesting and accessible participatory forums. Not everyone is necessarily comfortable bouncing around crazy ideas with co-workers. Maybe a new employee at a museum knows they need to take some risks, but are uncomfortable getting support from people within their institution. Someone could use their anonymity on internet forums to get support and ideas. They would then have the confidence to realize their dreams and take the risks their supervisors want them to take. If successful, this could open them up to relationships or opportunities within their museums that they would not have normally had. Perhaps people are institutions not open to change. They could also use her accessible forums, blogs, and book to show examples of successful participation to higher-ups.

    • amyrt 9:09 pm on October 15, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Nina gave me a ton of ideas for what ideal museums can be. I plan to reference the book later in my career. Participation is addressed head on in her book and she challenges museum professionals to revolutionize the way they exhibit and to increase their presence in the community.

      In the book she references ways to get the community involved in creating exhibitions and programs. In the interview in Good Times Santa Cruz Magazine, she talks about how at MAH they are creating programs and events to bring in the younger audiences like a biking history scavenger hunt. Their audience has been traditionally retired old folks like many other museums in the country. But the interactive programs are reaching out to the underrepresented audience. In her book, she challenges museum professionals to engage people and be innovative but I like that she says in order for the programs/projects to be sustainable, they have to be specifically relevant to the mission of the institution and grow out of what they are already doing, she calls it part of the institutional culture. If projects seem to come out of nowhere and the staff does not feel comfortable with them then it will not last.

      I heard her speak at MAAM and she said she is starting a revolution. I think that it is revolutionary to think that museums can be informative and engage the community in participation with the exhibits and institution. MAH has become a community of it’s own it seems because of all the interactive things and programs there she has started. She told us she didn’t realize how much time she has to spend on unimportant things such as budgets and tries to make time for things she thinks are important such as staff development. She addressed some problems she had so far at MAH. One artist thought people were engaging too much with a puzzle in the same room as her artwork, the focus was on the participatory project and not the art. This can be a practical common issue, does anyone have any thoughts on how to balance this? Since she got the job, she has been faced with the difficult but necessary task of implementing her ideas.

    • johnviebrock 7:35 pm on October 16, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I found reading both Nina’s book and her blog to be very interesting and thought provoking. Her ideas on how to make museums more participatory is certainly causing a lot of waves. Personally it has really brought a new thought process to all the different possibilities that a museum can do to have more interaction with its audience. However there are some things I disagree with Nina on. Like in her interview with Geoffrey Dunn she makes certain comments during her back and forth with him. For example this back and forth really interested me:
      Dunn: Okay, it’s now on my bucket list. Is there a fundamental concept that provides an intellectual framework for your ideal museum experience?
      Simon: What I’m interested in is the roots of the commons, the Agora, the town square, places where people from different walks of life come together to learn and debate and inspire and frustrate each other. Artifacts are important as the organizing principle—the objects around which the conversation happens. But the objects are not the point. The people are the point.

      Dunn: I like the idea of the Agora—a commons, a public space—for the sharing of ideas and for fostering cultural exchange—I’m with you there. But for me the objects—the things—are part of the equation. It’s not a dichotomy between people and things. I don’t view them as separate. But I agree that they are not the end point. I view them as part of the discussion.
      Simon: I use the term “social object” to talk about artifacts that inspire dialogue. Sometimes that dialogue is internal between the person and the object, and sometimes it is between people around the object. If an artifact doesn’t elicit any kind of response or dialogue, there’s something wrong with the exhibition design.

      Dunn: I guess we are getting down to basic principles. It has always seemed to me that museums are intended, first, to stimulate internal discussion—contemplation, reflection, meditation, deep thought. That in itself is a dialogue, an interaction if you will. And then comes the outward engagement—the interaction of these reflections with others. So it’s at least a two-step process and maybe more. How does the museum help facilitate the continued discussion and engagement?
      Simon: As a museum visitor, especially at art museums, I always thought that was my job: to look, to contemplate, to be blown away and have little epiphanies around every corner. And it never happened. I’d stare at a painting and think, “Am I doing this right? Am I getting something out of this?” Most Americans don’t have a lot of background in art history or visual culture, and so we’re not trained in how to get into that deep contemplation zone.

      Dunn: Really? I’m not sure it takes training. I was raised as a fish cutter and went to Soquel High. I didn’t have any formal art training growing up, and yet I’ve always had a visceral response to art—whether it was music, a movie, or a painting. I think formal training “intellectualizes” the reaction. I didn’t need any training to experience or frame my reaction to a gorgeous sunset or Yosemite Valley or “Sympathy for the Devil” or The Graduate. So I’m not sure I agree with that distinction.
      Simon: I don’t have any formal art training either—and, like you, I feel good about my ability to react to music and movies and nature. But I’m pretty lousy at expressing my reaction to art, and the research shows that most people who visit art museums—in some studies as much as 90 percent—feel unsure of their reactions and unable to express them.

      Dunn: OK. I believe you. But that’s another shocker…
      Simon: We’re good at doing this about music—arguing and advocating and falling in love with songs without reservation. But think about the huge disparity between the number of songs you’ve heard in your life and the number of paintings you’ve seen. I’m sure that if we looked at art as often as we listened to the radio, we’d be really smart about contemplating and reflecting on art. But we don’t, and we’re not. And the result is that most people feel a little uncomfortable in art museums, maybe even a little stupid—and that definitely does not make them want to discuss what they’re seeing with others.

      Dunn: So how do we get people there, into that comfort zone?
      Simon: I try and design ways to help people be as comfortable as possible so that they can get to that point. Sometimes, it means putting a nice armchair in front of a painting and inviting people to cozy up to it for awhile without feeling the itch to move on. Sometimes it means giving people notecards with questions to think about or unusual thought experiments to try. This may sound contrived, but it’s exactly what people who have a Ph.D. in art history have spent years doing—building up tools and techniques for engaging with art. We all need these tools, and when we get them, we’re more likely to feel confident in museums and enjoy the experience.

    • johnviebrock 7:40 pm on October 16, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I found myself agreeing with Dunn on most of the points in this back and forth. I feel that a museum should be about first and foremost about the objects. I think that balance between objects and the people is what is key for museums. If a museum leans to far towards the object side it can become irrelevant to the public but if it leans to far to the people then it starts to become more like a community center then a museum. I also feel that you don’t need to be trained to appreciate art anyone no matter what their background can enjoy looking at art. Art resonates to different people in different ways. I think Simon is over generalizing the normal person with her own perspective and would challenge her studies that 90% of people feel unsure of their reactions and unable to express them. Even though I disagree with these two parts I love the problem solving she uses to create a “comfort zone” for people in museums. I feel she is a trailblazer in the field and has dynamic ideas that will change the museum field.

      Sorry I guess this went a little long for one post.

  • haljust 5:12 pm on September 25, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: participatory museum,   

    Well, there is another update on the Simon book. I just looked on the website to check it out again and its back up and running. So I guess those who read online have a choice between which source they would like to read it on. Personally, I prefer reading on the participatory museum website.

  • haljust 4:01 pm on September 25, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: participatory museum,   

    Hey guys,

    So after searching for about 5 minutes, I found another link to the Participatory Museum. Its on google books. The whole book is on there for free. So if you have been reading it online like me, this is a great find.

    Here is the link:


  • chrislarry 9:16 pm on September 20, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: discussion, , participatory museum,   

    Nina Simon Participatory Museum open thread 

    Just a discussion thread for people to share thoughts on reading.

  • melbump 11:32 pm on September 18, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: participatory museum,   

    Nina Simon Our Green Trail link

    I had a lot of fun checking out this project Nina Simon mentioned on pg 46 of her book. The Our Green Trail, created by the Boston Children’s Museum is a fun educational online extension of the museum’s exhibit that educates children about “green” behavior. I signed up to participate in the activity. After entering all my information into the online network, I was able to make a house in the neighborhood and start playing the game as the “Bump” family. However since it is a children’s museum I was supposed to have kids to participate- so my online family includes my husband and our two “kids” (cats Bella and Curry)… After taking a few challenges we were able to purchase a rain barrel with our earned points.
    This is an excellent project and great way to keep visitors connected to the museum even after they have visited. As an online patron from another state I am able to connect to the exhibit without having ever visited the site. I am even planning to forward the site to my Brother-in-law in Oregon, who has 4 kids that would love playing on the site. This leads me to a question though… Can an institution give away too much online? Does this fulfilling online experience encourage me to visit to museum?

  • allysonjo7787 10:29 pm on September 18, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , participatory museum,   

    I researched further the Frank Warren PostSecret project. The amount of responses to this ultra personal postcard project was intriguing from the get go. There are no restrictions, no need for a name, and only one requirement: “What’s a secret you’ve never told anyone?” I immediately started to wonder if I were to participate, what I would write and if it would too have a cute art counter piece. After doing some further reading and research, I was inspired to find that there is very little interaction with the host site, http://www.postsecret.com/, and the people who are submitting their secrets. Unlike so many other community sites built on people’s participation, this one seems to flow with very little interruption from day to day.

    • corilinville 11:41 pm on September 18, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      i LOVE postsecret!!! my friend got me one of the books for christmas. they actually just came out with an app for the iphone. The website comes out with new secrets every sunday. it’s great. The creator is really involved is really involved. He goes on tour around the country and does talks. PS has a fb and a twitter page too!

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