Brainstorming

Museomix 2018: what we learnt about museums and their audiences in Mons

By 3 July 2019 May 20th, 2020 No Comments

Museomix’s figures speak for themselves! Eight editions, sixty-six museums remixed in twelve different countries, and all in the space of just three days every year…

This year Alice Balerna, a former apprentice at BAM!, and our own Elena Bertelli, chose to go and take a look at what was happening in Belgium. They were there among the communicators, makers, programmers and facilitators in Mons. Here we provide an account of the three days of Museomix 2018, seen through the eyes of Alice, who is about to graduate with a thesis on audience development and engagement practices in cultural institutions and who attended her first Museomix with great enthusiasm and a constructive critical approach. Enjoy your read!

 

After stepping off the train and stopping for a quick lunch, our curiosity got the better of us and we headed straight to the BAM – Musée des Beaux-Arts, which was where we would be creating, designing and presenting our prototype over the next three days as part of Museomix.

Works by Niki de Saint Phalle added colour and a certain surreal touch to an impressive Techshop (the technology and electronics warehouse made available to the teams during every Museomix): webcams, audio and virtual reality equipment, 3D printers, laser machines. The Mixroom – the space dedicated to the communication team, which works 24/7 to tell the rest of the world about what is happening during Museomix – by the museum entrance, the large room on the top floor with a view over the city where we all ate our meals together after the plenary meetings… it all seemed ALMOST ready.

The next day, having selected the playing fields (the guideline themes drawn up by the museums for the prototype creation) and formed the teams, fuelled by an infinite supply of chocolate and litres of coffee, everyone taking part began to share their ideas. The various themes on offer posed an immediate challenge and stimulated the creative spirit of all the mixers involved.

Each prototype was closely tied to a specific playing field: on the one hand the theme of temporary cultural events and their interaction with the permanent nature of the art collections; on the other, the activation of potential links between the various exhibition spaces. However, there was more… The other themes proposed were: the dialogue between the cultural institution (in) and the context of the city around it (out), the concept of the museum not just as an elite place but as a hospitable environment: “a second home” for visitors. A team then focused on how and when to gather public feedback. Lastly, big stakes were played by seeking a solution to providing visibility for the art housed in museums but not displayed in their rooms.

After the initial brainstorming sessions, the work groups began to give effective shape and body to their ideas. The creation of an interactive map and a multimedia app enabled the audience to put themselves into the shoes of St George, the man who successfully challenged the dragon and the key figure at the Musée du Doudou. The connections between the various museums were rethought out through the installation of interactive monitors that would allow visitors to interact with the other museums, slippers with Arduino systems and comfortable beds alongside the artworks that would make you feel at home. The feedback would lead to the creation of an avatar whose shape and colour were chosen on the basis of perceptions experienced during the visit; while the stored but inaccessible art in the Artotheque would be discovered by looking at it through the lens of a special “camera.”

What surprised us most about this Museomix?

Something different happened right from the outset: the teams did not just comprise one communicator, one maker and one mediator, but instead people worked outside their specific roles. Content experts gave ideas to communicators, mediators supported makers and ran back and forth to the Techshop, facilitators became graphic artists when required. Nevertheless, it should be said that given all the codes, computer languages and app design required, the programmers could not rely on the assistance of anyone else despite the strong spirit of adaptation and the fluidity of the roles

After three days, when three different sites of a Museum Group numbering eleven sites in total were remixed and six prototypes were produced, we can say that it was a truly international Museomix in Mons. As well as us two from Italy, there were experts from all over the place: from Greece to France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and even from Mexico on the other side of the Atlantic.

On Sunday afternoon, after a quick lunch and the final preparations, we helped to receive the public who came to test what we had made during the marathon: the museums were open and the prototypes ready… this was what we had been waiting for! Unfortunately something had gone fundamentally wrong. One team was forced to report their findings without having involved the public, as no one had told the museum to extend its opening hours. Furthermore, some of the prototypes still needed a few finishing touches and there was a general sense of a lack of communication between the Belgian Museomix community and those in charge of the Mons Museum Group.

While not all of the mixers’ creations were fully functional (if everything were perfect, what kind of prototypes would they be?), their immediate dismantlement at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening after the museums closed is what left us truly perplexed. It happened that very Sunday evening, once the museum had closed, which meant that the public did not have the opportunity to test them over the next few days as envisaged by the Museomix format, providing an opportunity for visibility and reflection on the three days of work carried out by the teams. We therefore tried to understand why. Upon chatting with the organisers, we discovered that this happened because all the technological components used had to be returned to the partners that had loaned them out as soon as possible.

What was missing from this Museomix in Mons?

Some of the information we gave you initially was not totally accurate. While it’s true that Museomix takes place over the course of three days, the planning process goes well beyond a single weekend. Months of preparation actually go into creating a community. In order to go beyond creating prototypes and three days of hard work (we can assure you that if people are working from 8 in the morning to 11 at night in a museum then something crazy is certainly going on), Museomix has to be planned carefully. It takes a lot of energy and time to see a real change in the mechanisms and dynamics of visitor-museum relations. Work has to be carried out almost every day of the year to inspire and engage a community. Links have to be forged, partnerships tried out and aperomixes organised!

Almost a whole year is needed in order to cultivate and manage the relationship that is born between Museomix and the cultural spaces that choose to be remixed. This is no easy task, because Museomix defies logic and does audience development in its own inimitable way. On the one hand, the museum needs time to really understand the creative spirit of the mixers who ask for spaces and tools; on the other, the organisers have to gain a clear understanding of the museum management’s needs and requirements.

If they fail to build relationships based on trust and do not really understand the philosophy and objectives of the format, such as open innovation, co-creation, skill sharing, openness and public engagement, they can fail and make no real difference. However, if museum and mixers come together, the results can be highly innovative and they can reach a shared objective of audience engagement through a truly sustainable, ongoing relationship between the museum and the local area.

We are coming home from Mons with some new inspiration, ideas and friends who work in the same sector as us and with whom we can continue to share ideas. Above all, we’re coming home charged with initiative. Rumour has it that Museomix will be returning to Italy in 2019 and I can’t wait to find out more!

 

Alice Balerna for BAM! Strategie Culturali