I’ve been commenting on a few articles in the past week so thought I’d blog to share what’s been exercising me. The first was a piece by Jonathon Jones, art critic at The Guardian. He asked whether art critics should only critique the exhibitions they see or should expand their view to critique programming policies. Some curators had felt that he shouldn’t challenge their decisions about what and how they programme. I commented that he is right, that more public debate, leading to greater understanding, on how our cultural institutions deliver best value is extremely helpful to our sector. It seems a no-brainer to me but I may be wrong. Maybe people aren’t interested enough? Maybe it could lead to too much interference?
The other story was about Glaciergate. Robin McKie exposed the process by which the IPCC gathers and reviews climate science, suggesting that their systems have not embraced the open innovation, agility and transparency that is enabled by ‘we think’ technology. Errors can be challenged and new findings absorbed at a much faster pace. I didn’t comment on that aspect of his article though I do agree entirely. In my naivety I assumed that global research as important as the IPCC’s would have been entirely agile and open. Shifting it to be so should be a priority. Glaciergate has followed the. UEA email scandal in providing lighter fuel to the vandal fires of the climate deniers. The hacked emails referred to a blurring in a slight dip in one of several indicators that show a hockey stick-shaped (i.e. extremely steep) rise in temperatures. The glacier error seems to have been a mistake in transferring a date of 2350 to 2035 (the date when Himalayan glaciers may be entirely gone). My comment was that the Glaciergate coverage had ellided the real scandal of the IPCC 2007, that it didn’t account for methane emissions from melting tundra or, more startlingly, from polar melting, because of uncertainty about precise figures.
The third comment was on Mia Ridge’s blog Open Objects. Mia blogged in response to a laughable article by Simon Jenkins which set up heritage against technology, and was generally pretty negative about attempts to make collections more accessible through media. I commented that he is or has been a key player in heritage policy not just a journalist, implying that his view that technology threatens heritage is prevalent amongst the advisory class in culture and heritage. There is some important work to be done in advocating and demonstrating the validity of a new agile approach to technology applied to heritage.
There were lots of other interesting posts too, that I didn’t get round to commenting on, for example, Nick Poole predicting the post-digital age to come very soon, Mia again on why museums have preferred to put collections in Flickr Commons than Wikimedia, and Tony Butler writing an important post about museums in a no-growth economy.
I’m going to be writing a response to Tony’s post next, which will also be an article in the next Museum-ID publication.
I was asked to write a post on the weekly blog on the new Museums Computer Group. As I mention the Haiti earthquake, at the time assuming that its museums must have sustained substantial damage given the news that much of the city was destroyed. However, an ICOM report is just in and although it seems that some staff are missing and there is some damage/instability and risk of looting, the museums are at least still standing.
You can read it here too, but bear in mind it’s written for that audience…
Taking the baton from Mike Ellis to share some links and comments on stuff this week, it’s been hard to focus on what I’ve found interesting in our profession, as my attention has been so taken by the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. It does prompt reflection for us in that much of a capital city has been destroyed, including historic buildings and the lives and works of some practising artists. I can’t imagine how we would deal with that. Scientists now think that extreme storms, increasing in frequency with climate change, can trigger earthquakes. The susceptibility of Haiti to natural disasters (repeated floods & hurricanes) is probably due to deforestation by its French colonisers. So much of the value of cultural heritage institutions has been about preserving things and buildings, but in some places like Haiti and as time goes on for many more places, that may become a very difficult challenge. That’s one reason why I believe digitisation of culture and knowledge is so important (as long as we do it as efficiently as we can). And digital tools aren’t just useful for posterity but for the ‘here and now’, for example in the way they’ve been so rapidly deployed to help the rescue effort, with satellite maps and data services for locating relatives and so on.
I wonder if the ‘emergency’ facing our sector, in the form of funding cuts to education and culture, will give us the impetus to deploy digital tools in more agile ways. This week both the Conservative and Labour parties made funding statements for culture at the RSA State of the Arts conference. Here’s a useful comparison and summary. In a scenario of funding cuts can we convince politicians that digital strategy can actually save money and produce value, and not just be a drain on budgets, with vague outcomes?
As we run up to the election, our various quangos are jostling to advocate the value of culture either through bold statements (like this from NMDC), through holding expert enquiries (like this from MLA) or through consultations (like this from ACE).
In the meantime, there is much to celebrate as museums & culture shift towards openness and collaboration. Here are two great examples:
The BBC and British Museum launched their major History of the World project. A positive reception has been obvious from so many tweets from regional partners announcing their contributions and schools getting excited about adding objects to it (e.g. Thomas Tallis @creativetallis on twitter).
The other good news is Culture24 releasing some sets of data feeds (venues, resources, events/exhibitions) with 3 levels of access (open, redacted, full), available in RSS, OAI-MPH & SOAP formats. This is just a pilot with more data & formats in the pipeline.
There’ll be more news to come over the next few weeks about open cultural data (for example about Culture Grid and DCMS digital strategies) and I’m pretty sure you in the Museums Computer Group will be the first to know. And the first to comment, bless you! Next to take the baton is Jim Richardson from Museum Marketing.