Wednesday, January 08, 2014
It's not a great photo of people enjoying the museum. It's not a witty description of an upcoming event. It's the wishlist.
At any given time, we are on a hunter/gatherer mission for an upcoming project at our museum. Right now, we're looking for wood chips for a creature-making workshop. Last month it was cardboard boxes for a collaborative opera. Last summer it was beach chairs for a history exhibit.
When one of these needs arises, we approach it in a simple way: we ask people. About once a month, our weekly e-newsletter includes a request for humble items. It's not uncommon for someone to bring in a trash can full of wine corks or to load up a bike trailer with cardboard (OK, his blog post about it was a special touch).
The wishlist is the most responded-to part of our e-newsletter. On one level, this seems kind of preposterous. We provide plenty of intriguing content about exhibitions and events and the thing people click on most is the request for bottle caps.
But on another level, the wishlist is the most participatory part of the newsletter. It's the one part that begs a response.
One woman came up to me last Friday night at the museum to say: "I love reading the wishlist. I am always curious to see if I have some junk that could be useful, and then I like wondering what you guys are going to do with it."
When she said this, I realized that what we thought of as a thrifty practicality is actually a great symbol of our participatory, inclusive ethos. Being a participatory museum means looking at every person who walks in our doors as someone who can contribute meaningfully to the institution. It means making the path to participation clear, easy, and fun. It means turning their contributions into magic.