Hi Holly, you won’t remember me but we shared breakfast in Pasadena…. I do understand how you can sometimes get to feel like this. I don’t have much to add to your thoughts on communication breakdown – you’re right, communication takes both effective transmission and reception. Your remarks on the value of our whole digital enterprise, though, chimed very serendipitously with my own musings on the way to work this morning. I was thinking: some museums that hold a preponderance of “real” objects, others contain more in the way of dioramas, reconstructions, replicas, interactives and experiences; indeed some have nothing “real” at all. Does this lead them to have different attitudes to their digital holdings or place different value upon them? Despite the AAM’s Code of Ethics, not all museums (in the broad definition that the AAM also holds) have collections per se. In fact, the section you quote includes not just collections but “exhibition materials”, and maybe that’s where we can salve our consciences a little: exhibition materials could well include digital resources. In the end it’s true, most of the time in most cases it’s the collections that really count and they must take priority, and museums always have to balance, to choose, and they do. As well as going on building and maintaining collections they have to use them in all sorts of ways to get value now as well as in the future. That’s where we come in – only rarely are we creating works of art; mostly we’re making stuff that brings art, history, science, ideas to people. It would be foolish to spend too much on that, like it would be foolish to spend all the money on gallery refurbs and none on building and caring for collections, but still it’s valuable work. Occasionally we might even make something that could become digital heritage (i.e. a digital thing worth keeping) as opposed to digitized heritage, and in this time of flux and exciting experiments we are surely seeing some genuinely valuable bodies of knowledge and experience that perhaps we’ll want to “preserve for posterity”. I’m really interested to find out if and when our digital stuff is anywhere near as precious as our real stuff (it’s my research area, as it happens), but anyway don’t be too down! If people needed museums in the past, not just collections, then they need us now, in the same way.
We met at MW2007 and managed short lively conversations at a couple of points…never enough time given the jammed packed schedule. It was my first time at this conference and I was thrilled to see the energy, dedication and determination towards opening up museums in as many ways as possible. The last time I witnessed this same passion within a group of museum people was in the late 80s and early 90s when I went to NAEA and witnessed the efforts of art educators determined to allow interpretation in their galleries. Some 20 years later that change has happened.
Not that this helps, but I suspect that your reaction is based on realizing that moving the field forward ain’t gonna be easy (whadda ya mean, even more work!). As you are well aware Museums are by definition conserving and thus reluctant to change places. Leaping that gap between the museum world of conservation and the digital world of radical change (which is impacting the everyday world at the same time) gets mind-bogglingly difficult when the differential in rate of change seems to get larger everyday. To leap that gap is going to take vision, passion and smarts. There are no easy answers (darn it). One of my takes from the conference is just how slow institutions are moving toward the digital world making me realize just how challenging change is going to be. What I admired about the group at MW2007 is that are at least pushing their institutions to make change. I sense also that everyone is worried that we can’t get our museums to recognize the needs quickly enough. Like the earlier efforts with art educators, eventually circumstances will make it the change happen because the environment surrounding museums will force the issues.
Being on the edge and being allowed to stay often means showing others often that it is ok to be there. You have to be prepared to keep convincing and persuading even if it feels like enough already.
[…] Both Perian and I travelled to AAM last week and it tripped up our Metaverse Friday schedules a little. Now that we’ve gotten the good news that Holly has been rescued from her basement I thought I’d address some of the issues raised by HET (Holly’s Evil Twin). […]