After discovering MuseumBlogs.org a directory of museum and museum-related blogs I have been poking around and finding that few are holding my attention long. Much of it is because I feel these blogs do not know who they are writing for. As a reader I sense that authors have no sense of their audience. Are they writing for readers within the profession, other curators, or the general public? Often a dry academic tone dominates yet it has little substance. If I am going to wade through academic writing in a blog I want a well developed idea behind it. I want to learn something from my effort. As a reader if I put the effort and time in at the end I would like some satisfaction. Unfortunately I found often this is not case.
What I would prefer is to see the writing style loosen up a bit and see the passion. Why are these collections important to the author and in turn me? What role can they play in my life? Why is the author in this profession? How can this profession add to the internal mental texture of my life? I know these collections and the profession is important as these institutions shape and tell our cultural narratives. These narrative in part shape who I am. Perhaps my disappointment in “museum blogs” is in part because I value our national collections so much and take pleasure in visiting museums and galleries whenever I travel. For me it is a key method of gaining an insight into another culture.
The cultural artefacts I encounter on these visits have often lived in my memory for years. I still remember the first time I saw Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the National Gallery in London for the first time. I always feel that painting snuck up on me as I was there to meet a friend and encountered it by accident for a moment it literally made me gasp. The memory of light on that painting on that day still gives me goose bumps 20 years later. In other words the painting has textured my life in a subtle manner. As a member of the public I value these collections of the world. They allow me to see the world in a different way and in the process tell me a little about myself and what it is to be human. Surely there are few writers out there in the profession that can feed my curiosity about their institution.
I would love read more blogs that are written for the general public. I hate the term general public but I am sure you understand what I mean. There are lots of areas to write about. I am sure people would love to understand how exhibits are assembled and how the narrative is shaped. What objects are included and what is left out and why. I personally would love to know more about how digital media is used and perceived by the profession. Other areas of interest are restoration and conservation. The how and why not just that it is done.
How can developing a regular general public readership help our arts institutions and organizations? This question is possibly best answered by illustration. Recently I have encountered a blog written by the Digital media team at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney are writing a blog Fresh + New The strength of this blog is that as a reader I am given an insight into the discussions within the industry about digital media and its use in museums. The blog is written for those in the profession. Unlike some, there is not a hint of pretense or elitism.
As a reader I have a glimpse of the struggle professionals and organizations are encountering with the advent of participatory media. I was fascinated, spent a couple of hours reading, and added the blog to my RSS feed. In other words although written for the profession I was still hooked.
I live in Canberra an often visit the Powerhouse whenever I am in Sydney. I enjoy the museum, and it does add to my life but when I visit I feel like a visitor. There is a psychological barrier between institution and visitor. After reading this blog for a few hours I realised to my surprise that these insights into the day to day tussle of ideas that are going on behind the scenes made me feel as if I could participate in the life of the museum. A barrier was broken, not at any physical level but at a psychological level which meant that the museum became more important to me. A subtle but important shift in my support for the museum had taken place. This may not show up in visitor numbers but I know that if the bean counters want to cut funding to the museum I will be writing to my local member. Simply put because of the insights gained while reading Fresh + New I feel differently about the Powerhouse and this would manifest itself not in increased visits because I already visit the museum but during a funding crisis should the need arise.
I think it is very important that people feel that they can participate in the life of their national institutions. Web 2.0 technologies allow this. The organizations particularly those that are publicly funded, need to embrace the technology, ditch elitism, open up, share their passion and allow people in.