"The viewer completes the work of art."

- Marcel Duchamp


Commentary: At museums, the audience is dead -- let's talk "participants" instead

Jim Richardson, MuseumNext.org, 7/6/11

The audience is central to much of what a museum does...[but] 'audience' does not seem like the best way for us to describe the modern museum consumer. These are people who live increasingly digital lives, where they are not spectators, but active participants, positively engaged through outreach programmes and projects.  While it is unlikely that the use of the word 'audiences' will change, I think it is useful for us to think of the people who choose to interact with museums either digitally or by making a visit as 'participants.'

Marketing for participants: In February 2011, a group of museums and galleries in Yorkshire, England launched a marketing campaign to promote art collections on display in thirty-five venues across their county. [They] asked the pubic to participate by sharing stories about their favourite painting.  The campaign "Yorkshire's Favourite Painting" offered a unique prize, the opportunity to win a replica of a painting you love, and over 400 people [entered] the competition.  Many more participated in other ways, sharing stories through social media, leaving comments and voting for stories.  The website attracted tens of thousands of hits, but the campaign resonated further, with online participants becoming real world visitors.

Websites for participants: While museums are creating opportunities to participate online though Facebook and Twitter, most museums haven't incorporated this kind of interaction into their own websites.  Teylers Museum, the Netherlands' oldest museum, has a [secondary] website, built using the social networking tool NING which brings the museum to life in a way their main website doesn't.  Teylers' Herman Voogd explains: "'We like the idea of having both a traditional museum website and something which is more open.  On our NING website it doesn't matter that the picture is not crystal clear or that the movie is amateurish. The rule is to not spend a lot of time but share a lot of knowledge about the museum or the collections." If a museum does not have time to participate in conversations with its audiences (even online) then I think it needs to reassess its priorities.

Exhibitions for participants: Another way to involve our audiences as participants is through co-creating exhibitions. This can take many forms; it could be a history exhibition shaped by the contributions from people who lived through the event, a crowdsourced exhibition created with the public, or asking visitors to write new labels for paintings. One recent example comes from CCCB in Barcelona's exhibition of photography by 20th century Spanish photographer Josep Brangulí.  Contemporary photographers were asked to respond to the themes of the exhibition (and Brangulí's work) through an open call which tapped into Barcelona's thriving Flickr community to attract over 2,000 submissions in a month.  This isn't social media for the sake of a trend, but using technology to make an exhibition better through public participation, and also making the individuals who [take] the time to get involved think deeper about the themes of the exhibition.


Commentary: For mass media, "the audience is dead, long live the users"

Federica Cherubini, EditorsWeblog.org, 6/29/11

The media landscape has fundamentally changed, said Philip Trippenbach, editor-in-chief of the citizen journalism photo agency Citizenside.  The traditional one-way vertical relationship from the mass media to the audience does not exist anymore. Indeed, the whole notion of audience does not exist anymore, as users are now taking an active role in the creating and distribution of media.  The new medium of citizen media in fact is not the Internet, as it could be easy to think. The new medium in the renewed news landscape is the users themselves, he said.   This innovation implies that journalism has to rethink the relationship, putting users at the centre. The creation of Citizenside, a network of citizen reporters active in many different countries, was inspired by user-generated photos during the 2005 London underground bombings.   The underlying philosophy has something in common with the Wikipedia concept: everyone, everywhere, can go on the Citizenside website or download the app and submit photos and videos, adding a caption or a tag.   Anyone can also participate in commenting and interacting with the website community.  What users want from the Internet, the reason they go on the Web instead of simply passively reading a newspaper, is that they expect something to do on a site -- at the very least they want to share.  Motivation is a big issue.  For July 4th, for example, the site launched a "What makes you proud?" challenge that asks users to submit pictures of what makes them proud to be American.  Feedback and trust are fundamental too.


Related: Journalism is saving itself with technology. Why aren't the arts?

Eugene Carr, Patron Technology blog, June 2011

If technology is seen as a central and critical solution for American corporations, why is it not a more central topic for discussion in the arts?  For instance, if I told you that new technology could reduce the time your staff takes to do their jobs by 20 or 30%, isn't that a worthy goal? If time is money - then the right new technology can literally manufacture time!  In an industry in distress, why isn't technology front and center as part of the discussion? And if technology is driving innovation at every level of the corporate world, why aren't arts leaders embracing it?  What I know for sure is that new technology is nearly always present when industries in crisis manage to wriggle out of their troubles.  The much-maligned newspaper industry, which was teetering toward irrelevance a few years ago, has made valiant strides in this regard, and now some of the very best iPad apps are those created by The New York Times and The New Yorker. So why isn't this happening in the arts?


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Open call for examples of "active participation" programs by nonprofit arts

Ian David Moss, Createquity.com, 6/22/11

WolfBrown, which is one of the best arts consulting outfits out there, approached me with a request for examples of "excellent, new, or unusual" arts participation programs offered by nonprofits that involve adults creating or performing. If you think of any case studies that meet the criteria, please email Jennifer Novak-Leonard at jennifer@wolfbrown.com.  Below is the text of the request:

WolfBrown has been commissioned by The James Irvine Foundation to prepare a white paper on active participation, planned for release later this summer. In this case, "active" means that the participant is involved to some extent in creative expression (i.e., creating or performing). We've been asked to focus on participatory arts experiences for adults, not so much on arts education programs (e.g., lessons and classes) or audience engagement activities such as lectures and workshops.  Our research has uncovered many artists and arts groups who've been active in this area for years, but we're looking for new and interesting examples, particularly involving arts groups for whom "active participation" has not been a priority, historically. We're also interested in identifying artists who are creating new work that engages audience members in some form of active expression.  Any suggestions, leads or links would be most appreciated.

[FROM TC: You may also be interested to read the comments that some of Ian's readers posted, adding their own examples of arts audience participation.]

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