Nina Simon: Creating the Participatory Museum


Since relaunching last summer, we’ve followed the blog Museum 2.0 with interest. On it, Nina Simon, a multi-tasking author, consultant, and exhibit designer, makes the case for making museums more visitor centered and engaging. In other words: Incorporate the kinds of participatory tools people are already using on the social Web en masse. Sounds like a no-brainer, but for museums it represents a dramatic shift in how visitors are defined; “passive consumers” are now “cultural participants.”

It’s not mere branding speak but a matter of survival. Over the past two decades, cultural institutions have seen their audiences decline as other forms of entertainment and learning have emerged. A 2008 survey by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts charted these trends; read it here.

“Visitors expect access to a broad spectrum of information sources and cultural perspectives,” Simon writes in the preface to her recently published book, The Participatory Museum. “They expect the ability to respond and be taken seriously. They expect the ability to discuss, share, and remix what they consume. When people can actively participate with cultural institutions, those places become central to cultural and community life.”

The good news? Simon believes history museums like ours (though we consider ourselves a history/city museum hybrid) are very well-positioned to make the transition. “As cultural anthropology has swung away from a vision of authoritative history and toward the embrace of multiple perspectives, there is potential for those stories to come from all over the place, including visitors themselves.” For us, this has meant turning a rather traditional arts and crafts exhibition into an opportunity to host DIY workshops and sharing the results online, and streaming images of Vancouverites and their bicycles into our exhibition on the city’s bicycle revolution—to name just two examples. Small gestures, perhaps, but part of a concerted effort to reflect what’s happening in the city in real time.

We’re constantly finding inspiration from the many incredible examples Simon uncovers. We loved the 3six5 project and theDenver Community Museum’s pop-up shop experiment (an image from it is pictured above). Way too many to list. On Wednesday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m., Nina Simon will join us via Skype to discuss her work, her book, and other great examples of participatory museums at work. Details on the event here. Hope you can swing it.

Image credit: Museum 2.0

MOVments of the week: blue-whale skeletons, chicken coops, and cities going vertical


Our weekly round up of local news, events, and cultural happenings we’re tracking. Off we go…

One more whale skeleton and we’ve got a trend. The soon-to-open Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC has devoted their atrium to a blue-whale skeleton. On Saturday, Ottawa’s Museum of Nature will unveil an exhibit of a juvenile blue-whale skeleton, on view for the first time since it was donated in 1975. The museum has undergone an extensive six-year, $250-million overhaul that was part renovation (a view of the show-stealing staircases inside their ‘lantern’ addition is pictured left), part restoration, and aimed at showcasing Canada’s rich natural heritage. “Probably the only thing Canadians agree on is their pride in the physical beauty and remarkable nature of the natural environment of the country,” says Joanne DiCosimo, the museum’s president and CEO. “And our public wants to learn more about their impact on the natural environment as well as, as much as we can tell them about the changes through time in the natural landscape.” Image slideshow, video tour, and article found on Globe and Mail.

The chickens are coming! Almost! After much debate, column inches, airtime, etc., Vancouver is one step closer to backyard chicken coops. Earlier this week, City Council approved a plan recommending amendments to zoning and animal control by-laws, the creation of an online registry for hen keepers, safety and health regulations, and the creation of a city-run shelter for abandoned chickens.” (!) Next step: a public hearing to legalize the zoning and by-law amendments. Slowly but surely. (Vancouver Sun)

A tale of three cities. Vancouver is densely built but expensive. Calgary sprawls over rolling prairie land but is starting to think skyward (see the new urbanist-style neighbourhood of Mackenzie Towne). Toronto is somewhere in between. For a tidy summary of how three Canadian cities developed and where their respective planning efforts are taking them now, click the link. (Globe and Mail)

Last week, a pixelated whale. This week, giant sparrows! More public art has gone up on along the city’s waterfront, this time on the Olympic Plaza in Southeast False Creek. Local artist Myfanwy MacLeod’s pair of 18-feet-tall sparrows reference the neighbourhood’s past and present. According to the artist statement, “Locating this artwork in an urban plaza not only highlights what has become the ‘natural’ environment of the sparrow, it also reinforces the ’small’ problem of introducing a foreign species and the subsequent havoc wreaked upon our ecosystem.” They’re stunningly beautiful, too. The complete artist statement and images of the fabrication are found on the City of Vancouver’s website here. Happy long weekend.

Image credit: Pawel Dwulit for the Globe and Mail

MOVments from the week and what’s ahead (Fox, Fluevog & Friends launches one week today!)


This week’s round up of news and cultural happenings is rather museum-heavy; always lots going on as institutions prepare to launch their summer blockbusters. We’re no exception: Fox, Fluevog & Friends: The Story Behind the Shoeslaunches exactly one week today (one of the 150 pair of shoes featured in the exhibition is pictured left). The building is buzzing.

The quest for the 20-minute neighbourhood. Ever since last year’s feature exhibition Velo-City: Vancouver and the Bicycle Revolution, we’ve kept an eye on two-wheeled matters—news, ideas, design, etc. But what of pedestrian traffic as a city-making/organizing tool? The City of Portland recently unveiled a new 30-year plan for the city that introduced the concept of the 20-minute neighbourhood. “The idea? Simple: everything a person needs for his or her daily life should be within an inviting 20-minute stroll of home.” Key components include things like walkability, scale, density, and amenities like transit connections, schools, and parks. Most interesting is this: though Portland is held up as a model of progressive urban planning and livability, only one district comes closest to meeting this ideal. Wonder how many neighbourhoods in Vancouver would pass the test. (Portland Monthly)

Golden king = gold. This week, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario wrapped up their exhibition King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs reporting incredible and inspiring stats. Over 400,000 people visited during the 24-week run—47% of them first-time visitors. “Gallery memberships also increased strongly, with 12,450 new members.” AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum said they hosted the exhibition to attract a new audience, but admits the results were unprecedented. It’s also a sure sign that the boundaries between art gallery, history museum, and cultural space are increasingly blurry—all for the better. (Globe and Mail)

BC Place’s roof deflates, real story missed. The bubbled white roof came down on BC Place stadium this week, amid much chatter about the stadium’s future: “Why not tear the whole thing down?”, “Is a new retractable roof really necessary?”, “What benefit to stadiums actually bring to downtowns anyhow?” In typical Vancouver fashion it was all a tad… over-thought in the eleventh hour. Here’s an angle missed by both the media and PavCo (the crown corporation that oversees the place): As Vancouver bills itself as an efficient, sustainable, and all around smart city, shouldn’t we be finding ways to repurpose existing structures? Finding ways to make dated venues fit into contemporary uses? Extend their often all-too-short life cycle? (Read about the environmental toll of concrete production in the excellent 2002 book Cradle-to-Cradle; you won’t look at the ubiquitous building material quite the same way again.)

What a £20-million museum rethink and marketing blitz looks like. On May 28, the Museum of London will launch their Galleries of Modern London, the results of a three-year re-think of five exhibition spaces. (In London, the “modern” era starts from 1666 and runs to the present making the project all the more daunting.) I love the simplicity of their “You are here” marketing concept, which features off-beat archival shots of urban life over the centuries. Details on the project, plus a slideshow of the new spaces is found on the museum’s website here. Additional coverage in Marketing Magazine.

Image credit: Rebecca Blissett for the Museum of Vancouver

MOVments from the week


A round up of news stories we followed this week, plus other events and cultural happenings worth a notice.

You see arugula, I see an eyesore? As City Council pushes for a green, sustainable Vancouver (allowing backyard chickens, introducing new bike lanes, building a demonstration garden on City Hall property, etc.), awkward snags in the day-to-day functioning of city emerge. Two neighbours in East Van are going head-to-head over a vegetable garden. Seems the tenants at 470 E. 56th Ave. have turned the front and back yards of the property over to vegetables, growing everything from kale to raspberries to herbs. Every inch is maximized for growing—even the dandelions are used for tea. (An image of the yard from last summer is pictured left.) They write a blog about their “yarden” project, too, and have even offered workshops to would-be farmers. Their neighbour says their efforts are impacting the value of his property and that weeds are travelling into his yard. The City is now involved, expressing their support but also requiring clean up of beds planted on the city land the tenants have taken over between the sidewalk and the street, among other things. Question is: Would the neighbours complain, and thus the city be involved, if the house were located near Commercial Drive where such philosophies are more commonplace? Or are the tenants pushing things too far, too fast, politicizing the issue instead of just trying to get along? Would love feedback on all this. See the article in today’sGlobe and Mail for additional background.

First United embraces a new mission. This week, First United Church launched a campaign to raise $31-million to “redevelop the church into a multi-service facility that will provide everything from health care to housing” for residents of the Downtown Eastside. Though the church has been a beacon for the poor and marginalized since its establishment in 1885 (archival photos from the 1930s show people lined up around the building for food), it has adapted in recent years to meet a growing demand for safe shelter. In 2007, they stopped offering formal Sunday services because of poor attendance; in 2008, they became one of the City’s emergency homeless shelters, under the HEAT initiative. Some 250 to 300 people sleep there each night. With this week’s announcement, they’ll now formally transition from a place of worship to a place of sanctuary, a move a spokesperson for the church says resulted from questioning what it means to be a church in the 21st century. (Globe and Mail)

So long, white dome. On May 3, at 10 a.m., the distinctive air-supported roof at B.C. Place will deflate for good, marking a major change to the city’s skyline. The 27-year-old roof is being replaced with a retractable version that’s scheduled for completion next year. Click the link for a slideshow of artist renderings. (BC Place)

Art, popular culture, and Kurt Cobain. On May 13, the Seattle Art Museum will open an exhibition devoted to Kurt Cobain. The group show sees different media to interpret the work, life, and continued influence of the city’s most famous musician. On till September 6. Click the link for a slideshow of works from the show. Wonder what Kurt would think. (Seattle Art Museum)

And a note on what we’re working on. Sorry to be off the blog this week. We’re gearing up for the opening of our latest exhibition, Fox, Fluevog & Friends(!), and preparing for the launch of our summer program schedule and related online content. Some of the programs will relate to the Fluevog exhibition, others won’t. Lively mix assured.

We’ve also been busy mining the content from our history galleries for a new interpretive guide/mini-catalogue. It’s been written and designed as a visitor’s guide to those galleries, and part of an ongoing effort to link the stories from the city’s—and the Museum’s past—into our new vision. I’ll write more about it once it’s available at our visitor services desk. Happy weekend.

Image credit: The Farmhouse Blog

MOVments from the week


A weekly round up of the news and cultural happenings we followed this week.

Vancouver gets animated: Pixar officially opened offices in Gastown this week. Always so much media coverage (hype?) around these Vancouver 2.0/creative class/Hollywood North stories, and more to come: “no fewer than three American studios are opening up shops in Vancouver: Pixar, Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, which plans to formally announce its Vancouver studio next month.” (Globe and Mail)

Lights out for Celebration of Light? We could post a link to last year’s story on this, or the 2008 version, and so on… Every year the incredibly popular fireworks festival is on the verge of cancellation. Who’ll be the white-knight sponsor this year? (Globe and Mail)

Beaches and parks go smoke-free: On Monday night, the Parks Board voted in favour of banning smoking in local parks and beaches. “No fines or penalties were passed in the bylaw but the regulation could be amended in the future if there’s not sufficient voluntary compliance.” Sign we’re living in a nanny state or a progressive one? And could a ban on carcinogen-spewing charcoal barbecues be next? Or is this really about legislating manners? (CBC)

Pop art continues to provoke: A blockbuster exhibition of works by the world’s foremost pop artists opens at Ottawa’s National Gallery in June, and it’s already stirring controversy for its, well, intentionally controversial content. Pop Life: Art in a Material World is travelling from the Tate Modern in London, and features some 250 paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos, etc., produced over the past three decades by artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst. The gallery has received the edited version of the show from Tate curators, presumably to avoid some of the issues experienced during the show’s run last year, and some galleries will be off limits to kids under 18 unless they’re accompanied by a parent. Great discussion on all this on CBC Radio’s Q this morning, more coverage from the show’s London run from the Guardian newspaper here, and details on the exhibition itself via on the National Gallery’s website here. Fascinating.

History on foot: The May schedule for Jane’s Walks is now up on the Think City website. Great lineup. For the uninitiated, the walks are inspired by the late Jane Jacobs—Toronto’s urban-planning heroine and author of the seminal book Death and Life of Great American Cities—and delivered by civic-minded volunteers for free. (We’re into the tour of andesite-stone buildings, a topic covered in the terrific book Vancouver Matters; see my blog post on it from September.) (Jane’s Walk)

Image credit: The Globe and Mail

MOVments from the week – and DIY@MOV2!


Our weekly summary of local news and cultural happenings—and a shameless plug for an upcoming MOV program… Read on!

Curtains for the Ridge Theatre? Ian Bailey reports that the historic Ridge Theatre may be on the verge of closing. Owner Leonard Schein says the single-screen cinema model can’t compete with the multiplex. (One wonders how his Park Theatre on Cambie Street is doing. ?) (Globe and Mail)

An Exhibit We Wish We Could Check Out: Next week, Sustainable Futures opens at London’s stellar Design Museum. The show promises to be a smart sampling of the best green designs, products, and the like, all meant to inspire a better way. (Design Museum)

“Forever Punk”: A profile of D.O.A.’s Joey Keithley hit newsstands a couple weeks back, so if you haven’t read it yet, let this serve as the reminder. Really captures the zeitgeist of Vancouver’s punk scene in the 1980s. Best Keithley quote: “D.O.A.’s about causing trouble, being shit disturbers, fomenting revolution. You have to kick the giant—even if it’s only in the toe.” (Vancouver magazine)

End of the line for the Olympic Streetcar: We all knew it was only a temporary thing, funded as it was by Olympic money. Still. The Olympic streetcar line was a beautiful thing. A novelty at only 1 km+ in length (it really is our version of Seattle’s Monorail) but an efficient and needed transit connection between Granville Island and Canada Line’s Olympic station. Though the City has made a multi-million investment to upgrade the existing tracks, it needs $90-million more to make the line permanent. (CBC News at Six)

DIY@MOV2: Our first social-crafting night was a hit, so we’re hosting another on April 9. We’ve worked out the kinks, bumped up the art supplies, and there’ll be another great mini-craft fair for those who’d rather leave the crafting to our city’s many talented pros. Details on our Engagement calendarhere. Happy weekend!

Image credit: Brian Howell for the Globe and Mail

MOVments from the week


The local news and cultural happenings we followed this week—and what we’re up to this weekend.

Yet another take on cabinets of curiosities. During the four-month run of Ravishing Beasts—our feature exhibit on taxidermy—the blog looked at how the design world is reinterpreting the natural world. You’d be hard-pressed to open a shelter mag these days without finding some reference to this trend, or something about creating off-beat vignettes that go beyond books and vases and into the slightly macabre. An image of Patch NYC’s vignette from the French edition of Marie Claire magazine is pictured left. (Poppytalk)

“Radical Homemakers,” and “Femivores.” In advance of our fall 2010 exhibit on the local food revival, we’re tracking stories from here and elsewhere on the new breed of homemaker—namely, the new generation of people embracing self-sufficiency through gardening, bee keeping, chicken keeping, etc. This week, a New York Times Magazine piece looked at it from a feminist perspective, dubbing the proponents of this new movement “femivores.” Meantime, a just-published book entitled Racial Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture,looks at the trend in families and the focus on sustainability. (NY Times and Globe and Mail)

London’s Jewish Museum reopened to the public this week following a £10-million transformation that involved a move to an old piano factory and a tripling of their exhibit space. New interactive displays are designed to take visitors into the daily experiences of Jewish residents, right down to the smells of traditional cooking. (Jewish Museum London)

And a museum closer to home… We love this slideshow of images of a blue whale skeleton being reassembled for the soon-to-open Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC. Can’t wait to see this hanging in their new atrium soon. Look at those vertebrae! (Vancouver Sun)

Vancouver’s oldest school is slated for demolition. On Wednesday, parents, students and teachers gathered to protest plans to level a two-room schoolhouse next to Sir Guy Carleton elementary. The structure was built in 1896 but damaged in a fire in 2006 and has sat empty ever since, awaiting restoration. (Vancouver Sun)

And something to do here this weekend…We’ve blogged about it, tweeted about it, and the night is nearly here. Tomorrow at 7 p.m., we host a screening of the acclaimed documentary “Handmade Nation.” (Click here to be taken to the March 2nd blog post about it.) It promises to be a great event, complete with mini-craft fair by Got Craft? and a reception in our MOV Studio. Be sure to arrive early to view our feature exhibit Art of Craft, which showcases incredible crafts from local, national, and Korean talent. Happy weekend!

Image credit: Poppytalk

What are Vancouver’s museums collecting now? Two more perspectives from the ‘other side’


Here’s that post I’ve been promising—long overdue! Consider this the last entry on the collecting-practices talk we hosted a couple weeks back, where we invited museum directors from the city’s west side—what Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) refers to as the “other side”—to discuss their most recent acquisitions.

First, there was MOV’s Nancy Noble discussing the myriad changes we’ve made in recent months (a Q&A based on her presentation is found here). She also discussed the challenges of managing a collection that often reflects the “colonial wanderings” of Vancouver residents, rather than our new direction as a museum of Vancouver. Our name change wasn’t mere wordplay.

Then there was Dr. Shelton, who sees MOA returning to its “original principles” after wanderings of a different sort. When MOA was founded in 1949, the idea was to create a museum of world arts and culture. That’s the objective now, too. When MOA unveils its major renovation in January 2010, expect to see objects and ideas organized broadly by oceans, not continents, to underscore the fluidity of culture, spirituality, and philosophy.

Stories exploring the relationship between the world and Vancouver will be another area of emphasis. In collecting terms, this means a focus on acquiring or commissioning contemporary pieces, and efforts to grow the collections of regions currently under-represented, particularly Latin America, Europe, and parts of Africa. An exhibit planned for 2011 will look at beliefs between places and feature the work of 15 master-folk artists. Working title: Heaven, Hell and Somewhere in Between.

Dr. Wayne Maddison of the forthcoming Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC isn’t reshaping a history museum nor returning to a past vision, but rather, attempting to create a new institution from a collection of specimens amassed by university researchers over the years. MOV’s collection represents colonial wanderings; Maddison calls the Beaty’s an “accidental accumulation.” For him, the challenge is transitioning from neglected and varied collections to a consolidated public museum. Moving forward, they’ll be seeking items suited for display—specimens like the stunning blue-whale skeleton that will hang in their atrium, and, no doubt, be a major draw when the museum opens in 2010. We can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

What are Vancouver’s museums collecting now: Questions for MOV's CEO Nancy Noble


Last week, MOV hosted a talk with the directors of three Vancouver museums on the future of museum collecting. This posts offers a follow-up Q&A with MOV’s CEO Nancy Noble. Next week, we’ll look at the trends discussed by the other speakers, Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology, and Dr. Wayne Maddison of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

How have the Museum of Vancouver’s collecting practices changed over the years?
Typically, museums have collected a lot less, including the Museum of Vancouver. We have also put tighter controls over the process of collecting, which includes a Collections Policy and a Collections Committeeof board, staff, and community—that makes recommendations to the Board for all acquisitions.

Also, I believe we are being more considered and reactive in what we collect. It is rare that the Museum spends time or resources to actively collect, although I think this needs to change if we are going to amass collections of relevance now and in the future.

So, if I had something I felt was an important object from the city’s history, a letter, an object, etc., how would I approach the Museum about it? How do you judge or evaluate what should be a part of the collection and what you’ll pass on?

You would call the Museum and they would put you in touch with the Director of Collections and Exhibitions or a curator with expertise in the type of object being offered.

Typically, the curator would do an initial assessment to determine if the object was something the Museum was interested in collecting. That interest would be based on the criteria set our in our mandate, mission, and vision, our Collections Policy, and on the knowledge the curator has of what already exists in the collection. Given the limit on resources, if we already had a collection that illustrated or told similar stories, or had better provenance, we might not accept. In addition, we often don’t accept collections because they are too large, or we don’t have the resources to adequately care for them, which are also factors in determining whether something is accepted.

Once the Curator does a preliminary assessment, he/she would take a proposal to the Collections Committee and a recommendation would go to the Baord.

What are some of your favourite recent acquistions? Which pieces speak to you, or most interest you?
I love the neon collection. I know it is challenging for the curators to find space for, but it speaks to so much of Vancouver. I love how a sign off a building on East Hastings informs us of the changes to that neighbourhood, both past and present.

I also love the Stanley Park collection given to us a few years ago by Peggy Imredy. The postcards, for example, are a stunning collection that documents so many aspects of one of Canada’s national treasures.

Museums are incorporating multimedia into their exhibits and visitor experiences—things like podcasts, videos, Flickr photo sites and the like. Are such things retained as a part of the Museum’s collection? Is the very definition of “object” changing?
The Museum is retaining some of it, but like many things we are behind in keeping up with changing technology. I believe we need to seriously consider how much of this will be collected and how we will store and use the material. I am a strong believer that the ‘real thing’ still has a great deal more appeal to visitors, but at the same time, I recognize that we need to use these new media to help us make collections and their supporting information even more accessible to the public.

MOV Talks: What are Vancouver's museums collecting now?


Vancouver’s cultural institutions are at a major turning point. We’ve just rebranded/relaunched/reinvented (a process chronicled on this blog and elsewhere. See recent coverage on BC Business here). Our west side neighbour, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, is set to unveil an impressive expansion and renovation in early 2010—an effort years in the making. And the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, also at UBC, is at work on a new $50-million complex that will house a research centre and a museum devoted to the university’s natural-history collections. It, too, is expected to launch in early 2010. Then are the ongoing plans for a new location for the Vancouver Art Gallery and talk of a National Maritime Centre to be located on the shore of North Vancouver. Add it all up, and we’re on the verge of a very different arts and culture scene—even if it takes years to achieve yet.

Renos and glittering new spaces are important, sure, but the changes afoot aren’t really about all that. It’s a rethinking of how museums should connect to their visitors. Our feature exhibit, Ravishing Beasts, has played a hand in our thinking on this. As we mounted that show earlier this fall, it generated discussions about where we’ve been; how we once used taxidermy to connect to nature, and how static forms like dioramas were designed and presented as “spy-holes” into authentic habitats. Point being: It was once enough to present objects and artifacts in display cases and leave it at that. Not anymore. Now museums and galleries are leaning on multimedia tools and public programs, like film nights and talks, to animate their exhibits, and, hopefully, fire up debate and conversation outside their walls.

There’s something else going on, too. As our CEO Nancy Noble describes, history museums are changing from a place to study the foreign or the exotic, to a place to study ourselves. Visitors demand to know why an exhibit—especially one hosted by a city museum—is relevant to them today.

So, what does that mean for collecting? Are these new forms like podcasts and Flickr photo sites then a part of our collection moving forward? Are the very things that are reenergizing the museum-going experience as valuable as traditional objects? Are we blurring the line between archive and museum—and does that even matter?

Tomorrow night at 7 p.m., we’ll get some insights on all of the above, when we host a free talk with Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology, Dr. Wayne Maddison of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and our own Nancy Noble. In a slideshow format, each of the presenters will present images of their respective institution’s latest acquisitions, and discuss how each is emblematic of their current collecting practices. Bonus: we’ll be offering a discounted admission of $7 to Ravishing Beasts, so if you haven’t wandered through yet, here’s your chance. Click here for additional event details on the talk; hope you can make it.


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