A friend I have known since I was born just posted this ancient photo of me on Facebook. (And yes Mum, your eyes don’t deceive you. I am smoking. I only had a few puffs, honest, and I didn’t like it.) Thanks to technology I can see it again after 23 years, and so can my Mum. And in the pic, I’m looking at a book of photos. It’s a banal thing to say, but still amazing to me, that we had no idea then what would supercede the photographic book as a way of sharing images. I’ve always loved looking at old photos and now collect them, the more quirky and abandoned the better. A task for this year is to scan the best, put them on Flickr, do some digital art/creative writing with them and let other people do whatever they want with them too. I have one minor qualm, not enough to stop me putting them online if I can get round to it, but enough to give me pause for thought. That qualm is consideration of the original photographers and people portrayed. The photos have no known copyright but photos are often related to personal feelings; shame (I really am sorry about the smoking Mum), intimacy, trauma, sadness and for the photographer, all kinds of desires, aspirations, intellectual authorship and so on. This issue, and many other issues that surround the practice of putting old photographs online, are the reason why we need mediated debate alongside it. That is why George Oates’ role at Flickr Commons has been so useful. I reported that the community of Flickr Commons fans and participants had formed a Flickr group to continue the mediation work. The force behind that group, Anna Graf, has also now created a blog called Indicommons.
This allows the group to maintain a presence that is independent from Flickr and to enable wider dissemination of the many rich ideas, collections and issues surrounding Flickr Commons. One topic in particular picked up by the blog is the idea of cross-collections mash-ups. When different collections are hosted together, it is much easier to pull them together for creative presentations around themes, places, dates, media and so on. See the Christmas slideshow as an example.
One other story to tell about new life in old photos is ‘Instant’. Touchstones, a gallery in Rochdale UK, have put out a call for artists who worked with Polaroid. In 2008, Polaroid ceased production of film so the old cameras are unusable unless you stockpiled some old film. There is a new technology called Zink (zero ink) that allows you to create Polaroid-style photos from your digital camera. Polaroid have started making the Pogo, a camera that uses Zink. The call from Touchstone excludes work with ersatz Polaroid, although they plan to do youth projects using Zink. I like the idea of celebrating a medium, now gone, that was so much a feature of our visual culture when we were growing up. Maybe the gallery will be able to put some old Polaroids on Flickr Commons as part of this project.
Here’s a message from the lovely Kids in Museums people. They want your help to create a new manifesto. Tell the families you know about it, or if you visit museums with kids, get involved yourself.
“The height of the Titians or the state of the toilets? A friendly face in the gallery or a kids meal in the café? Families decide what’s important on a museum visit. Kids in Museums is drawing up a new 2009 Kids in Museums Manifesto – 20 ways to make a museum family-friendly. And the 20 points are all being compiled from family visitors’ comments. So now when a family visits a museum or gallery and let Kids in Museums know about their experience, their visit could help determine the future of museums in Britain. Ideas and comments about how every museum can make all families welcome can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted on the Kids in Museums Manifesto Discussion Board at http://www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk
At last, family visitors can make their voice count!”
The Center for the Future of Museums, the American Association of Museums has just published a report predicting what museums will be like in 2034, based on analysis of thousands of research resources (which must have cost a few bob). This will lead to detailed white papers on the themes sketched in this initial report. The authors, ‘Reach Advisors’, were briefed to be edgy and provocative. My reading of the report suggests that they have been really rather conservative, by reinforcing the notion of museums as places of authenticity (even though museums’ objects are out of authentic context), assuming that they will always be real places that will thrive in real places, not acknowledging the potential for distributed cultural collections in a digital future, and asserting the value of didactic curatorial expertise. Their views about the role of museums in 2034 are extremely wishful, suggesting that they are bastions against the forces of change. I think their predictions may be accurate for how museums are in 2009 in the US (even though they refer very little to innovative work in museums now and ways that digital connectivity is changing museums), but the report offers no way of envisaging the many possible future scenarios that really may face us in 2034. There is absolutely no mention of the loss of biodiversity and the role of science and natural history museums or environmental heritage bodies. There is no mention of the loss of heritage that will happen with climate change. There is no sense in which culture-engendered dialogue takes place in an international space, about common global values. This is the summary of the report:
Their first prediction refers to the ageing population, saying that museums will offer post-retirement volunteer opportunities and interpretation will be more geared to older people’s needs.
They say the US population will grow by a quarter, seeing that the most significant aspect of this is a multi-ethnic population in the US. So, “Museums will be primary sites for civic dialogues about community interests and the policies that affect communities.”
There will be more educated women: So, “As the percentage of two income parents continues to increase, museums meet the demand for a more robust network of community support for the young children of mid-career parents. With more women serving as primary breadwinners, museums provide convenient, welcoming venues where families have rich experiences during their increasingly scarce time together.”
The next section is on ‘major geopolitical trends’, the first being energy price volatility. Demand for gas and gas prices will increase in 2034 so “Museums that require significant gasoline consumption and are not major tourist destinations will face enormous pressure.” Then there is one brief mention of climate change, but they only say that museums will need to educate visitors about it.
The recession threatens museums income, but then, without explaining how museums will manage to sustain their funding, the authors go on to assert that in 2034 “Museums are stable oases in the midst of turmoil. Building on their tradition of offering lowcost or free access and programming, museums play an even greater role in sustaining the wellbeing of their communities during a prolonged downturn… museums are there for their communities—even in periods when financial support from the community wanes.”
Globalisation is leading to a US trade deficit so “Responding to society’s need for greater global awareness, museums increase their efforts to promote dialog and understanding about other cultures and our place in the global economy. Some museums serve as ambassadors to the rest of the world not just through overseas outposts but through traveling exhibits and more directed Web presence…interpreting U.S. culture to countries of growing influence.”
Inequality will continue to increase so museums will rely on “donations from the economic elite if wealth continues to concentrate”. So in 2034, museums are “increasingly valued for their ability to redistribute wealth in the form of access to scientific, cultural and artistic resources, mitigating the culture gap that arises from income disparities.” and “museums literally enrich America, because income is correlated with education and the ability to profit from economic globalization.”
The digital revolution, including low cost web-based storage of digital assets so in 2034 “The prevalence of the digital, virtual world raises public awareness of the increasingly rare world of non-digital assets that help tell the story of how humans got where we are. Museums play a more critical role than ever as purveyors of the authentic, addressing a human desire for the real as the wonders of technology march us towards the opposite path.”
Because of peer-networked media, there will be a decline in the authority of experts, challenging museums to rethink the role of curator. So, in 2034, “As one of the most trusted sources of information, museums help people navigate the vast new world of information by filtering and validating credible content.”
As young people become more creative, and adept with creative technologies, so in 2034 “Museums play an even greater role as economic engines in their communities, helping harness the value generated by the emerging wave of creative-driven commerce and exchange.”
As culture becomes more participatory and we have a greater expectation that we will actively shape narratives, so in 2034 “museums provide unique opportunities for today’s youth to exercise their gaming skills and satisfy their expectations for immersive narrative. This increases their engagement with museums but also with the community and the world, providing levels of social and global awareness they might not otherwise absorb while sitting in front of a screen.”
As life becomes more hectic and technology-laden, as culture otherwise becomes more atomized and digitized, museums in 2034 will be places of authenticity and respite, or “oases of the real in an increasingly virtual world.”
As the archive for this blog stretches back some years now, here are some highlight posts on books, narrative, reading and libraries:
As the archive for this blog stretches back some years now, here are some highlight posts on art and exhibitions:
As the archive for this blog stretches back some years now, here are some highlight posts on children’s museums, family friendliness and accessibility:
As the archive for this blog stretches back some years now, here are some highlight posts on culture, learning and curriculum:
Culture and learning: A new agenda for advocacy and action
The Rose Review
Should schools sacrifice content
Blog Action Day – child poverty, culture and learning
Science and religion in the classroom
Culture, curriculum content and freedom
Hard or holistic science in schools
Do we need to send great paintings to schools?
The Big Trip
A curriculum with no art, science or literacy…!
Culture and creativity
As the archive for this blog stretches back some years now, here are some highlight posts on museums/culture and the web:
Back to the Stone Age with Digital Creativity
Museum web latest
Public service search and cultural organisations
Museums as media organisations
Data combining, visualisation and cultural data
Flickr and museums
MLA and HLF views on 21st C Curation
Click, a crowd-curated exhibition
How museum web offerings are seen by Ofcom
Knowledge transfer between businesses and museums
Logging On: Culture, participation and the web
Planning for the future: Museums and the web
As the archive for this blog stretches back some years now, here are some highlight posts on ecology, diversity and culture:
Loss and nostalgia
Heritage on shifting shores
Words for snow
Literacy and the wild
English landscape, as it was
Climate change and cultural education, again
To show they exist
Teaching climate change with films
The printed path
Climate change and the cultural sector
A friend pointed out to me that, despite being someone with lots of passion and very interested in the future, a constant theme in my conversation and writing is sadness for what is lost or what may be lost in future. It struck me again when I responded to this call for stories about Lost & Found things. I said in my response that I had a ‘thing about loss’ and was asked to elaborate. In trying to explain this ‘thing’ I waffled a bit about how things resonate with many possible meanings when they are lost or out of context. I did say I would write a blogpost about it, but I don’t this is quite it yet.
I got stuck on thinking about why I have this thing about loss. This may be a common trait of people involved in museums, people so motivated to preserve heritage and recreate the past that they will accept the lowest salaries of any profession (apart from artists). And speaking of whom, it may also be a trait of artists, some of them perhaps so motivated to compensate for loss by creating new forms and ideas, or evocations of what is lost, (or even, in the case of Michael Landy who destroyed all his possessions, flying in the face of the inevitability of loss) that they will accept the lowest incomes of all. I think it is true that I find loss painful. I don’t like being given flowers because they decay. I feel low level pain at all the passing quotidian beauty that I don’t capture with my camera. I’m reaching the cusp of the age at which you start going to more funerals than weddings. I don’t like to see old buildings destroyed, such as the 20 buildings soon going around London’s Borough Market, including its Victorian roof. I find it painful to consider the loss of so many tribal languages and cultures, and perhaps even more painful to consider the loss of wildlife habitats and species worldwide.
I find museums in some way comforting because you feel that these lost things have been saved and evidence of lost cultures can be pieced together with the meticulous care of curators and the involvement of their interpretive communities. But, in that very space, there is also sadness. Museums are virtual worlds but they are very fragmentary and incomplete, more virtual than world.
Mark Cocker in Crow Country describes from old accounts how the Norfolk landscape used to seethe with wildlife, but how much this has changed. He reflects ‘When we try to measure the depth, the quality, the richness of our past landscapes, and when we want to see how much we’ve lost, how far do we pay out the plumbline to find the bottom? Where exactly should we start to measure our impact upon the land? When we want to re-imagine the old place, in what age should we locate our memories? And what vision of the past do we hold to guide our lives in the present and the future?’
You don’t really have to go very far back in history to see devastating increases in our impact on the land. David Attenborough, in interviews about his career as a presenter of nature programmes in the relatively short life of TV, says “The thing that really absolutely appalls me is the realisation that there are three times as many people alive on Earth as when I started making television programmes.”
The effort of recording, categorising and interpreting our natural and cultural diversity, in digital and real museums and knowledge stores, is clearly of value in this context. But, is it the most valuable thing we can be doing?