Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fall Book Club Commencing: Visitor Voices in Museum Exhibitions

One of my most exciting moments of ASTC this year was picking up a copy of the newly released Visitor Voices in Museum Exhibitions, a collection of essays ten years in the making, edited by Kathy McLean and Wendy Pollock.

This book provides a plethora of case studies and reflections on visitor contributions, co-expression, and creations in museum exhibitions over the last thirty years. It’s an inspiring and varied collection.

The book opens with a list of reasons why museums might use "visitor-response elements in exhibitions." The list is so darn good I'm reproducing it here. As Kathy and Wendy write, visitor-response elements can:
-validate visitors' experiences, knowledge and emotions
-support visitors in personalizing and integrating their exhibition experiences
-redress a perceived imbalance in the content of an exhibition
-enable the institution to engage with a wider audience
-expose visitors and museum staff to diverse perspectives
-open up possibilities for dialogue and exchange
-extend participation beyond a programmatic event
-reinforce visitors' intentions to take action
-help people find others with common interests
-provide a constructive way for a community to respond to a contentious or emotional issue
-deepen museum staff's understanding of visitors' experiences
-honor public creativity
To me, incorporating visitor-generated content into exhibitions is a natural extension of the reality that visitors "make their own meaning" in museums--and therefore, the design of such components must be meaningful. And while all of these outcomes are positive, visitor-response elements are not always successful or valuable components of every exhibition. The examples in this book are a great starting point for dialogue about the bigger questions about how, when, and why of visitor-generated content.

So let's start talking! Over the next few weeks (starting next Tuesday), I’ll be leading a book club on pieces from this book. I encourage you to get the book, and add comments to this post if there are particular projects or authors you’d like to see covered. I will try to track down as many of the “real” authors or participants as possible for interviews so these can be follow-up discussions answering my and your burning questions brought about by these brief and enticing essays.

The book is split into four sections: Talking Back and Talking Together, Contributing Personal Experience, Expressing and Co-Creating, and Starting to Listen. Each week, we'll cover a different section, starting with the first one on talk-backs next Tuesday.

But until then, in the spirit of the book, I invite you to add your comments here about how you perceive the value of visitor-generated content, or descriptions of successful or unsuccessful examples of exhibitions where you’ve seen incorporation of visitors’ expression.

1 comments, add yours!:

Brad Larson said...

Great topic Nina! This year's ASTC felt like a turning point year for me, with focus on visitor creations popping up in sessions, the book, plus the momentum of Flickr and YouTube. (It also is what we focus on -- our work was featured in Barbara Costa's chapter of the book, "Asynchronous Conversation").

I look forward to the postings (nice idea to stretch them out over time)...