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 from the week


A round up of news stories we’re following, plus other events and cultural happenings worth a notice.

Whales, actual and pixelated. Last week, a grey whale swam deep into False Creek, apparently drawn to the rehabilitated shoreline fronting the new Southeast False Creek neighbourhood. Then, a new public artwork depicting an orca whale was installed on the plaza outside the Vancouver Convention Centre. According to artist Douglas Coupland, Digital Orca “breaks down a three-dimensional Orca whale (they are really dolphins not whales, but I digress…) into cubic pixels—making a familiar symbol of the West Coast become something unexpected and new.” It’s already drawing crowds. (Price Tags)

Remembering Lorne “Ace” Atkinson. The local cycling legend and owner of Ace Cycles on West Broadway passed away on April 23. He was 88. Last summer, his spare, handmade track bike from the 1954 Empire Games appeared in the MOV exhibition Velo-City: Vancouver and the Bicycle Revolutiona symbol of his long dedication to the sport. Yesterday, the Globe and Mail published a feature-length obituary on his life and impact on the city’s cycling culture. (Globe and Mail)

Maybe next year? As everyone in this city knows by now, the Vancouver Canucks are finished for another season. What does the team need? I retweeted this post from Vancouver magazine the morning after their elimination by the Blackhawks but it bears repeating: “1. Shrink for Luongo. 2. Byfuglien-sized forward. 3. All-Star-calibre D-man. 4. More Green Men. What else?” (Vancouver magazine)

What Vancouverites are actually reading. The most-read article on the Vancouver Sun’s website today was… this. (At least it doesn’t involve Kate Gosselin. She usually occupies the top spot.) (Vancouver Sun)

What we’re working on: Thanks to everyone who attended the opening party for Fox, Fluevog & Friends tonight. The exhibition opens officially tomorrow and runs through September 26, 2010. Our first related public program happens this Sunday at 7 p.m. with the premiere of The Colour of Beauty. The documentary-short examines racism in the fashion industry and is presented by MOV, Schema Magazine, and the National Film Board. A panel discussion and reception will follow the screening and—bonus!—admission to the film is free. Another bonus: a discounted rate of $10 gets you into the exhibition. Details on the event are linked here. Happy weekend.

Image credit: Susan Gittins

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 past week and a look ahead


Our weekly round up of the news and cultural happenings we followed this week—and what’s coming up at MOV.

Think Velo-City-meets-Art of Craft: Last summer, we introduced our new look and mission with Velo-City: Vancouver and the Bicycle Revolution, an exhibit on the rise of local cycling culture. This summer, New York’s Museum of Arts and Design hosts Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle, focusing on “the designs of six internationally renowned bicycle builders whose work in metal, as well as graphics and artifacts, elucidate this refined, intricate and deeply individual craft.” (Museum of Arts and Design)

Better in the ‘burbs? Vancouver’s not the only city trying to create a green businesses hub. This week, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts “added clean-energy companies to the list of business that can get a break from the city if they locate there.” (Globe and Mail)

Wish we’d been there: So often Vancouver’s brightest artistic and design talents are celebrated outside the city limits. Last week, Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen of Molo Design were in New York speaking about a new museum they recently designed in Aomori, Japan. Much like Molo’s design practice, the city is known for its artful paper expertise, hosting an ancient paper festival each year. The museum will “house the festival’s floats year round and give visitors a chance to view the handcrafted floats as they’re being made.” Click the Azure magazine link for slideshow of their work and renderings of the museum project. (Azure)

Coming up at MOV: We’re about to change the scenery here. On Sunday, April 11, our two Cultural Olympiad shows, Tracing Night and Art of Craft, draw to a close. Before they go, we’re hosting round two of DIY@MOV, the social-crafting night we piloted a couple months back. We were thrilled with the response. This time around, there will be workshops on weaving, drawing, felting, spinning, jewellery making and collage. We’ve also expanded the onsite craft market. Click here for the complete list of vendors and to buy tickets. Happy long weekend!

Image credit: Sacha White via Museum of Arts and Design

Farewell 2009! Here's to 2010

Been a quiet holiday season at MOV (and quiet on the blog front! It’s been awhile!). Consider it the calm before the storm. In just under two weeks we’ll open Art of Craft, an exhibit that comes to us via the Cultural Olympiad. The exhibit is a national survey of Canadian craft with a section devoted to works from B.C. and the Yukon, and another section featuring 47 objects from Korea. (More posts on Art of Craft to come. Meantime, buy your tickets to the opening party on January 13 here.) A second exhibit from the Cultural Olympiad opens on February 4 and features the incredible immersive work Tracing Night by Toronto artist Ed Pien. Details here (and, again, more to follow in upcoming posts). In addition, we’ve extended the run of Working Wood, our look at the work of five Vancouver woodworkers, to February 7. Ravishing Beasts continues to the end of February. It’s a packed house.

But before we get too far into 2010, a quick look back. 2009 saw many changes to the physical landscape of Vancouver. A few things stand out.

—The Canada Line subway/SkyTrain system opened in September, and already draws 90,000 riders a day. Overdue?

—The Pennsylvania Hotel completed a painstaking and inspired heritage restoration in early January (image above), providing 44 studio apartments and on-site services to the area’s homelesss.

—The removal of the scaffolding around the original Woodward’s building revealed—at last!—the store’s old painted advertisements on the brick, reminding us of a time when picking up stationery was a regular errand.

—Outside Woodward’s, more neighbourhood changes. The storied Only Sea Foods (sic) restaurant closed after a drug investigation; Pigeon Park reopened after a lengthy redesign, though still seems in a state of transition with area residents continuing to gather half a block away.

—Across town, Slickety Jim’s Chat ‘n Chew—the cluttered east side eatery that drew a crowd long before Main Street was cool again—burned to the ground. Part of Slickety’s appeal was its tired decor and resistance to the new, minimalist polish underway at many of its neighbours. What will take its place?

—The reallocation of a car lane on the Burrard Street Bridge for bicycle traffic was a major news story this summer, and then the lane opened and, well, nothing happened. It just seemed to work.

All that talk of the cyclist’s place in the city worked in our favour, and timed out perfectly with Velo-City, our exhibit on Vancouver’s ongoing cycling revolution. It was a year of changes for us, too. We’ve written about some of them extensively here on the blog, so let’s just leave it here: 2009 was an incredible year of change for the Museum and the city. And 2010? More ahead. We’re looking forward to all of it.

Velo-City concert series at MOV this weekend

Our Velo-City exhibit is now in its final days, but it’s not going away quietly… This weekend we’re playing host to two bicycle-inspired music events. The first is a concert by The Receptionists, the self-described “bike-courier band from Van city.” Their frontman is Toby Alford, whose portrait and fixie bike are featured in the exhibit. (To the uninitiated: a fixie bike is one without gears and brakes. The ride is somewhat comparable to that of a skateboard’s—and just as unforgiving). For a preview of the set list, listen in on their MySpace page, linked here. The concert happens at the Museum this Friday (August 28); doors open at 8 p.m. Bonus: it’s half-price night, so tickets go for $5.50; click here to buy them now.

The next day, MOV and Momentum magazine host the last Vancouver stop on the simply named, and rather ’70s-inspired, Bicycle Music Festival. This is the last leg of the San Francisco-based festival’s west coast tour. There are nine bands and performers in the lineup, and everyone shares a pedal-powered sound system (pictured above) that’s transported by a bicycle-hauled trailer from place to place. Admission to the festival is free, and there’s a beer garden and food available for purchase. See Momentum’s Facebook page linked here for more info on the festival’s other Vancouver tour stops, and a complete list of performers. Our event gets underway here at 5 p.m. and winds down around 10 p.m. Velo-City will be kept open late that night, and all festival goers receive 50% off admission upon showing their bike helmet at Visitor Services. So, deals to be had, music to heard… We hope you can swing by.

Image credit: The Receptionists

Out With Your Heads! Head trophies sought for Ravishing Beasts

We’re about to dramatically shift gears here: Velo-City closes September 7; on October 22,Ravishing Beasts opens. The Museum goes from a look at local cycling culture to exploring the history and present-day revival of taxidermy. An unlikely follow up, you might say. Velo-City was a strong example of the Museum’s new direction and, to our minds, prescient; Ravishing Beasts explores our past, fitting elements of our collection into a contemporary context. The exhibit features taxidermy and other items from our natural history collection that have not been on public display since the Museum moved to its current location in 1968. Expect an eclectic and dramatic round up of exotic and local species alongside taxidermy-influenced artwork by artists like Vancouver’s George Vergette.  Also expect interesting debate about the past, present, and future course of the Museum of Vancouver—and the changing nature of museum collecting in general—in the months ahead.

Interestingly, little is known about the provenance of many of the animals in our collection, only that they were donated by Vancouver residents. We’re looking to riff on that a bit, by asking locals to loan us their deer head trophies for a wall display we’re creating near the entrance of the exhibition. To participate, send a digital image and the dimensions of the piece to Wendy Nichols, curator of collections:

It’s going to get interesting around here… Many more posts to come.

Image credit: Rachel Poliquin

“Vancouverism”: the concept, the export and now, the MOV cycling tour

This Saturday, the Museum begins an eight-week run of cycling tours that examine the term “Vancouverism”—that mixture of urban design, architecture, and city planning that this city has become known for globally. Vancouverism encompasses everything from the architectural vision of the late Arthur Erickson, to green-glass towers that dot the north shore of False Creek, to developer-funded public parks and schools.

Where did the term originate? Best guesses indicate it came from architects and city planners who visited Vancouver in the 1990s and were inspired by its success luring people back downtown. A decade or so later, Vancouverism has become a political ideology, a lifestyle, and an export (see Dubai, San Diego, Toronto, and Seattle). It has also become a success story: Vancouver has more than doubled its downtown population in the past two decades, bucking the trend of many other cities.

The MOV tours deconstruct “Vancouverism” by looking at the term in practice, and the people behind the major examples. It starts at the Museum, crosses over the Burrard Street Bridge into the West End, then wraps around False Creek to Yaletown, Southeast False Creek (the site of Vancouverism 2.0), False Creek South, and back to the Museum. Our Velo-City exhibit is a fitting conclusion, exploring similar themes of livability and progressive city planning.

We hope you can join the conversation. Click here to register.

Image credit: Kenny Louie

The Talk: Park This! Solutions and Inspirations for Bicycle Parking


Continuing our look at all things cycling… Tonight at 7 p.m. the Museum hosts a free, multimedia dialogue on bike parking. The format: three 10-minute presentations, each one animated by slides charting the most creative bicycle-parking designs worldwide and identifying best practices for Vancouver. On stage are:Adrian Witte, a transportation planner with Bunt Engineering; Stephanie Doerksen, an urban designer with VIA – Architecture; and Richard Campbell, principal ofThird Wave CyclingSmaller discussion groups and a reception (with cash bar) to follow.

In our own informal research on this subject, we’ve noticed that bike-parking design reveals much about place, politics, and civic culture. Two examples stand out.

In Tokyo, sophisticated, multi-storey, mechanized bike towers have emerged to free up space on crammed sidewalks and other public spaces. With the swipe of a credit card, your bicycle is swept into the tower and stored. Swipe your card again, and it’s handily retrieved. Watch this colourful demonstration on YouTube, linked here.

In Toronto, a very different approach. Austere aluminum post-and-ring bike stands line most downtown streets; just a heavy cast-metal post affixed with a ring. It looks faintly nautical. The stands, pictured left, have become a city icon; a symbol of how simple, local ideas can remake the public realm. The design has been credited to David Dennis, who reportedly came up with it in 1984 while studying architecture at the University of Toronto. The stands have their limitations, sure (accommodating only two bikes at a time), but according to 2008 research from Appleseed, a New York-based consulting firm, Toronto has more bike racks per capita than any other North American city, a figure undoubtedly related to the simplicity and cost-effective nature of the post-and-ring design. It has been replicated in cities all over the world.

Vancouver, ever in the process of reinvention, is currently evaluating its own approach. Richard Campbell is expected to touch on this during his presentation tonight. Check back with the blog in the coming days for highlights.

Image credit: Richard Drdul

Q&A: Toby Barratt, co-curator of Velo-City

Propeller design



MOV’s Velo-City exhibition explores Vancouver’s cycling revolution, and is curated by Propellor Design’s Nik Rust, Pamela Goddard, and Toby Barratt (all pictured left). In a conversation with MOV, Barratt discusses how the show came to be, how Vancouver is becoming a cycling city, and the bike he had painted John-Deere green.

Where did the idea for Velo-City originate?
My partners and I are avid cyclists and we have noticed that little by little over the past decade the popularity of cycling in all of its many forms has been increasing, and in the last two or three years it has really started to take off. We really wanted to dig into the subject and try to understand what is going on in the city and how people are using their bicycles to push the limits of sport, creativity, individuality, and community building.

What’s your favourite piece from the show?
Wow, that’s a tough question. Every bike in the show has a strong Vancouver story attached to it. There are bikes that are works of art and others that epitomize the strong DIY ethos that is present in the show. But, if I had to choose a favourite, I’d go with Lorne “Ace” Atkinson’s 1954 handmade track bike. Ace is a living legend. He is one of Vancouver’s great cycling champions, having raced in the 1948 Olympics for Canada. Ace was also a coach, a bike store owner, and an advocate for cycling in B.C. Ace built his track bike by hand, filing the elaborately detailed lugs by hand over the course of a winter. He rode this bike in the 1954 British Empire games and was still riding this bike on the Burnaby Velodrome in the 1990s.

How did you wrestle bikes away from avid cyclists for four, mostly summer, months? Couldn’t have been an easy sell.
Once people understood the depth and scope of our ambitions for Velo-City they were happy to sacrifice a summer’s riding for the cause. All of these people have at least two bikes so they will still be pedalling this summer. One of the most incredible bikes in the show is Sam Whittingham’s Varna Diablo speed bike. At some point this summer he will be taking his bike for a week to attempt to break his own world land-speed record by besting his current record of 133 kilometres per hour.

What’s your bicycle of choice?
I have three bikes: a Bianchi fixed gear, a Rocky Mountain Fusion for touring and commuting, and my baby, a 1990 Marinoni road bike which I have put about 60,000 kilometres on. In 1999, I had it painted John-Deere green. The painter advised me against the colour for aesthetic reasons but it suits me just fine. I get other cyclists commenting on the old girl at stoplights occasionally. My Marinoni has become an old friend and it would be a very dark day if it were ever stolen.

You travel the Pacific Northwest by bike. What’s that like?
My partner Pamela and I go on a month-long bike tour every summer and it is the best part of every year. We have ridden to San Francisco three times and to Portland and back twice. Bike touring is a great escape. We set out into the countryside with everything we need packed on our bikes. It distills life down to its most essential elements. We get stronger everyday, we sleep under the stars, we meet people who are interested in talking to us even though they think we might be crazy, we swim in lakes and rivers and we get to know the countryside we travel through. Anyone can do this, we aren’t super athletes. We are pleasure seekers, reconnecting with the physical side of life after 11 months of sitting at the computer. We are adventurers for the month of August each year.

The timing of the show is ideal, with the recent decision by the City to devote a car lane of the Burrard Street Bridge to cyclists, on a trial basis. 
I ride across the Burrard bridge regularly but it is a real obstacle for many people who simply don’t feel safe riding over it. I see the bike lane trials on the Burrard bridge as an attempt to begin the process of re-imagining the city as a different kind of place where people are valued more than cars, and community more than the mythology of individualism that is attached to the car culture. I am not anti-car but rather, for more balance. The bridge trials will create controversy, but we shouldn’t shy away from a conversation that is about to get louder.

Where do you think Vancouver is at in its cycling evolution? The critical mass events, where downtown streets are overtaken with cyclists to stop traffic, could indicate local cycling culture still has the trappings of a protest movement. You don’t see such events in places like Paris and Copenhagen, where cycling is almost like wallpaper—just part of the scenery.
Our cycling culture is maturing quickly and attracting more Vancouverites every year, but cyclists are still a very small minority. It seems to me that the activist culture in our city has moved beyond confrontation to a sincere strategy of courting the non-cycling public. Critical Mass rides in Vancouver are internationally renowned for being peaceful and FUN. This attracts people to the cause and gets people to try riding. I fully expect that 8,000 Vancouverites will ride the June 2008 Critical Mass, doubling last year’s record number of riders.

What is the future of cycling in Vancouver?
Number one: People will ride bikes built to do specific jobs. For instance, going to get a big load of groceries is a breeze if you have a bike like the Kona Ute, which is built to make carrying a load comfortable and safe. Number two: Cycling will become the most stylish way to get around the city. You are starting to see it already—ladies in heels and dresses riding to work or downtown for a night out. Number three: Streets in Vancouver like Water Street, Commercial Drive, and Robson will be permanently closed to motor traffic. Cyclists and pedestrians will flock to these places and these communities will thrive.

The Velo-City exhibition runs until September 7, 2009.

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