#MuseumsRawk – Ignite Culture Presentation

The video presentation will be posted soon!

My name is Jenn Nelson, known as unmuseum for all you folks on Twitter, and I’m a graduate of the MA Public history Program at Western University.

There are three things that you should know about me. I’m a lover of museums, I’m a social media advocate and I’m a bit of a geek. My perfect job would be if I could marry my two passions together.

So, back to what I’m going to talk about.

We’re all here to contribute our thoughts and ideas and come up with a cultural plan that we, as Londoners can be proud of. As I’m passionate about museums, that is what I will focus on for the next 4 and a half minutes.

There are usually two points in our lifetime when we make a visit to a museum; when our parents take us as kids, or when we become parents and take our children.

This needs to change and it needs to change soon. How do we take the first step in changing this? We need to start by asking “what is a museum?”

I asked people on twitter to answer the question, “What is a museum? In 140 characters or less. At the bottom of each slide are some of the responses.

Do we all think of Ben Stiller and the triumphant battle of the Smithsonian – when the lights go off the battle is on. There’s just toooooo much going on here. Are we going to the opera? I don’t think so. Ps. You really need to watch the movie to understand that line.

Anyway, according to the Canadian Museums Association, museums are institutions created in the public interest.

They engage their visitors, foster deeper understanding and promote the enjoyment and sharing of authentic cultural and natural heritage.  Museums acquire, preserve, research, interpret and exhibit the tangible and intangible evidence of society and nature. It also helps create a sense of community.

Accordingly, the following are also recognized as museums.

Exhibition places such as art galleries and science and interpretation centres.

Institutions with plant and animal collections and displays, such as botanical gardens, biodomes, zoos, aquariums and insectariums.

Cultural establishments that facilitate the preservation, continuation and management of tangible and intangible living heritage.

The question is, can museums exist without historical collections? Do they just become the modern day buzz word a “discovery centre”?

Here are some things to consider.

Does a museum not become a museum until it is institutionalized?

What is the difference between a museum, exhibition centre, and interpretation site?

Is there a difference?

Museums are places to learn about all subject matter, in many different forms.

In the past, museums were much more static, things were kept behind glass with signs saying “do not touch” – things haven’t changed much – people are still discouraged from breaking the ITT code – the intent to touch rule – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Of course, in the curatorial profession, we do tend to go postal if grubby little fingers get on our 300 year old artifacts.

However, We do need to change the belief that museums are places that we just look. They are places for learning with all 5 senses and they are more than just places with crappy paintings and sculptures.

I personally believe in the unmuseum phenonmenon – using museum space in an unconventional manner. That being said, it is my personal belief that a museum should still exhibit its historical collection in order to maintain the name “museum”.

Then again, What’s in a name? Is it an opportunity to look into the past and future?

If all a museum does, is exhibit art, at the expense of it’s historical collection  – what is the difference between it and an art gallery or commercial art gallery.

What do they all of these institutions have in common? Is it material culture? Or are they all places for learning outside of the classroom?

To many people, a museum can be as simple as a “spot with wi-fi and good coffee” or “a place to go on a first date” it’s what makes a museum different from a movie theatre or art gallery is what we’re trying to discover.

I see a museum as a place that can create experiences that you will never forget. Of course, many other institutions can do that too – but that’s one of the key ingredients to what makes a museum great for me.

To conclude, I’m going to leave you with some questions to think about.

Does your favourite museum give you those chills that you get when you hear a great song? Should it?

What do we have to do in order to maintain that feeling? Is it all about technology?

What is the museum of the future going to look like?

How will the community benefit from the museum?

Will we be able to define a museum from an exhibition centre or interpretation site?

What will we choose to present as our past? Will we choose to even present it?

What do we need to do to keep museums alive, institutions that have been around for centuries are dying, or are they?

A museum is no longer just a place with old things. It is a place for discussion and learning.

As a young museum professional entering the field, I feel that these questions need to be answered. We need to be able to define ourselves so that we can figure out how to evolve.

This talk is simple and asks a simple question.

London, I challenge you this month to visit a museum that you have never been to and blog, tweet or Facebook about it. Please start engaging with your local museum – they want to know how they can make your experience better. Please tag your experiences with #museumsrawk.

The first step we have to take is through engagement and this is why social media is so important. We had to engage more with my generation – we are the future. We have a lot to say. Keep those who are passionate about culture in London. We can do so much with this city.

Thank you for listening!