Thursday, 25 February 2016

Museums of the Future

Museums make fairly frequent appearances in SF novels, as discussed in the 2012 post, 'The Museum in Science Fiction'. Often, the encounter with the museum in SF is a metaphor for the past (former societies, wars, lost civilisations etc.) and a counterpoint to the future or parallel world of the story. This association is perhaps related to the management of time such institutions are implicated in. Debates in the museum profession are revealing of a similar impulse but from the perspective of the future as well as the past. However, beyond the perennial concern about the future of museums, there seems to have been an intensification of future-gazing type surveys and opinion pieces during the last few years, in a distinctly science fictional vein. The influence of scientific and technological developments, particularly involving the Internet, is clearly part of the reason for this trend. Therefore, I thought I'd do a quick round-up of commentaries on what the 'future museum' might look like.

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that the word 'platform' came up a number of times. This term is increasingly associated with digital media platforms but used in different ways here in relation to museums. For example, in a Tate blog post, Chris Dercon (Director, Tate Modern, London) draws attention to the ever expanding space of the museum, both physical and virtual, writing that 'it is becoming a unique platform for human encounters'. Several contributors to a Museum ID piece also make the connection between the museum and social technologies; Peter Gorgels, (Internet Manager, Rijksmuseum) says: 'Modern museum visitors want to follow their own interests and form their own opinions. The museum of the future will therefore function more as a "meaning platform" where users are inspired to chart their own course and to become, as it were, designers and artists themselves. The digital domain has a logical role to play in this development'.

Others emphasised the social over the technological aspects of the platform model; Clare Brown (Program Head, Master of Arts in Exhibition Design, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at the George Washington University) commented that exhibit designers are becoming inspired to 'consider exhibitions as nimble platforms for information exchange and social engagement' and Andrew McClellan echoes these thoughts in the Frieze article, 'What is the future of the museum?' He also points out, 'museums can be palliative as well as acting as platforms for global dialogue, and will thrive to the extent they successfully manage their dual identities as zones of engagement and escape'. Finally, in response to the Guardian's question, What should our museums look like in 2020?, Robert Hewison stressed the need for museums to be flexible, suggesting, 'they are meeting places for people and ideas. Their future depends on remaining a dynamic part of the public realm'.

It's difficult to tell how far these ideas constitute prophecies about the museum of the future. Nevertheless, it's a useful insight into the history of the present and the way in which digital technologies are having a growing impact on how people conceptualise their interactions with culture and each other. And if museums in the future do end up becoming increasingly digital, let's just hope the oft-predicted digital dark age doesn't catch up with them...

Thanks to Bethany Rex for the links and for drawing my attention to this topic.

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