On Wednesday night I went to an event run by Venu Dhupa at the Hayward Gallery. It’s empty of art, waiting for Antony Gormley, and Venu is using the space for the first events of a Creative Innovation unit at the South Bank Centre. The idea is to explore how the South Bank can be a world cultural centre and how culture can be engaged in social, environmental and scientific affairs. The event staged three presentations by art projects that could change the world.
The second was Simon Elliott from ‘Aah’ about The Hill. www.ahh.uk.com See the image here. We’ve helped Simon with his communications and learning plans so were very chuffed with his succinct presentation. Simon has a grand scheme, which has delighted the Olympics committee, as it delights everyone he describes it to. The idea is to build an attraction inside a green hill on Potter’s Fields next to Tower Bridge. This will be the world’s first gallery of installation. The installations will be created by technologists and artists from the visual arts, digital arts, theatre, community and street arts, film and beyond. The building will also include an amazing slow food restaurant and free facilities on its green outsides. Initial concept designs have been produced by Catherine Findlay of Ushida Findlay. (A report in Building Design here: http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=426&storycode=3085251&c=2&encCode=00000000012eafab )
The final presentation was Aluna, a tide-powered moon clock. The presentation was very compelling as it is a fairly simple and beautiful idea, linked to symbolism and science that matters. I was pleased to hear that the tidal electricity generated to power its LED lighting will be sold back to the National Grid. However, the design for the sculpture is really not as beautiful as it could be. It is a more or less a thing, and yet as a thing it doesn’t sing. It is described as a ‘beacon for a sustainable future’ but I’m not certain that it is. http://www.alunatime.org/
As for the question, which idea would change the world, it’s a toss-up between the LIFT New Parliament and The Hill. Both can change the world because they will provide charged experiential spaces for extraordinary dialogue about what really matters. I support Simon Elliott’s vision and would love to see it happen. But also I like LIFT’s project because it is so portable and light-on-the-ground, and because it will tour the world to reach so many people. The evening ended with the two organisations agreeing to work together, so let’s see what happens.
Nick Poole of the MDA gave a speech http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/nwh/ART41939.html
to the Museums Computer Group and because feedback was invited, I gave some, naturally.
The paper suggests that we have catered too much for the researcher, focusing on digital catalogues a) without being certain what researchers want and b) without catering enough for the second category of user. Two user groups are defined 1) People who do detailed research about collections 2) Millions of people who don’t visit museums of their own volition, who visit museum websites even less. Which actually means that only one web user group is defined (researchers), the others being mainly non-users. We surely know that our users are more varied and numerous than this. Up to 114 million people last year visited UK museums. And many millions visit museum websites too. There must be a big middle ground between serious researchers and casual accidental visitors. For those working in education the web is invaluable in being able to converse with teachers and learners, and sustain and share the outcomes of projects.
The analysis of markets for culture is complicated by the fact that culture is at the top of the heirarchy of human needs, needs to do with nostalgia, traditions, emotions, ‘just looking’, enjoyment, free time, conversation and play. Cultural needs are not seen as functional. Museums are split in their views about the main purpose of their websites, between supporting study and business (fuelling the knowledge economy) and supporting informal popular engagement. In many ways, multimedia & the web are offering more opportunities to make a museum experience full of play and conversation, and reach a wider range of visitors (potential researchers), whereas the curation of a real space can be bound by scholarly fastidiousness and may only reach a narrow audience.
The paper contains a paradox, perhaps unintended, in saying that we focus too much on researchers and that we are too technology-led, yet are spending too much on experimenting with Web 2.0. I’m not so interested in technology per se, but very interested in the educational and social potential of Web 2.0 (including trying to work out what it is!). It seems to me that Web 2.0 is less about geekery, more about ordinary people being able to use the web because it doesn’t feel like technology any more. It helps more of us become researchers. I disagree that we should step away from Web 2.0, mainly because there are free services out there with information storage capacity. We shouldn’t always spend money trying to replicate those within museum sites, but use them whenever we can, for example in education projects.
I particularly endorse the proposal for a national marketing strategy, with a proviso that the museum sector should be well defined (museums, libraries and archives? museums and galleries? digital cultural archives which have no visitor building?)
A 2 year moratorium on projects is a very radical suggestion, which I disagreed with on first sight, as major initiatives do encourage join up between several museums. However, I believe that many national partnership projects are too rushed, and less joined up and strategic than they should be.
If there is major investment in 3 or 4 key museum sites, it is important that all museums (of all types, including archives) are involved and consulted in this. If these meta-sites do employ Web 2.0 approaches, in a broad sense, it is more likely that smaller museums, archives and heritage societies can contribute content and expertise to these meta-sites, and that user needs can be better understood.
I came across an interesting blog, related to a project called Kids 2020, described as ‘an evolutionary global research project with kids’, and a ‘collective garden of their intelligence offering insights, views and prototypes unstructured by politics’. I’ve linked to their post about the KIT Tropical Museum in Amsterdam, which has a unique directive for bringing world culture into the lives of Dutch children. Their programmes for children sound fascinating, from the brief descriptions that can be found online. I want to find out more.
NESTA has changed and the old Learning programme is no longer. Its education element is now focused on Future Innovators, a scheme to investigate & promote enterprising & inventive attributes in young people. http://www.nesta.org.uk/programmes/future_innovators/index.aspx
The Future Innovators team organised a speed networking event for creative innovators, educators and young people last week at the Dana Centre. I haven’t had such a buzz for ages. A great atmosphere was generated by the lovely Roy Leighton, http://www.independentthinking.co.uk/Who/Associates/Roy+Leighton/default.aspx
I only got a tiny glimpse into the heads or worlds of most of the people there as we had to move round so fast. But here are a few that I was excited by.
The young people were thin on the ground but shining. Emily Cummins, aged 19 has won awards, including ‘Technology Woman of the Future’ for her solar powered fridge and water carrier http://www.nesta.org.uk/informing/articles/emily_cummins.aspx http://www.audiyoungdesigner.co.uk/comp_details/emily_cummins.htm
Barry J Gibb makes films & books and other communication projects, inspired by science. He wrote the Rough Guide to the Brain, which I must read.
Tamara Andress is one half of the Comedy Research Project, who are scientist-comedians.
Steve Mesure, creative science consultant and creator of the Floating Point Science Theatre
Marc Champkins who designs things that help children concentrate in school
And there were many more.
This Margate Exodus by Penny Woolcock and many others including Antony Gormley, Brian Eno, Rufus Wainwright etc is wonderful. It’s so rare to come across a project that is so embracing, yet also so well defined and specific to a place. It embraces visual art, performance, ritual, music and film. It embraces a melancholy and a sense of celebration. It embraces an archaic story of a people and a contemporary diversity of people. It’s great to see that Creative Partnerships in Kent is involved in it. I might be able to persuade the family to go, so I’ll add more here if so.
A brief update: I didn’t manage to go as the train journey was so long. But I enjoyed the TV programme about it.