Posted on | April 12, 2009 | 5 Comments
Nina Simon is an innovative designer of participatory museum experiences. In addition to lecturing widely, she authors the Museum 2.0 blog, which has become a primary touchstone and resource for best practice in the museum world. What may be less well-known about Nina is her background as a performance poet and how she was inspired to get into art museums by a painting from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum: Morris Louis’s Faces from 1959, which she saw in a touring exhibition at the Worchester Art Museum in Massachusetts.
In January 2009, I got to revisit that painting and many other artworks in the American Art Museum, including an exhibition of Frank Gohlke’s photography, with Nina as we talked about our experiences and aspirations for mobile interpretation. Along the way we recalled Peter Samis‘s trope of ‘visual velcro‘ in describing how interpretation can be essential to helping visitors connect with certain artworks in particular. We talked about the power of dialogue and the conversational tone, as exemplified in the SmartHistory.org podcasts. Our views of cellphone tours and headphones got tossed around, with an idea for podcasts that can work both as gallery tours and as learning experiences beyond the museum. And we shared our enthusiasm for games and how they can bring adaptive learning experiences to museum interpretation, referencing Jane McGonigal’s talk for AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums.
Thanks to Nina, I got to look at the art museum for the first time through the revealing lens of the science museum. She pointed out that science museums often invoke their visitors as scientists or researchers, helping them make discoveries and relive in some way the subject as professionals experience it. Why, she asks, do art museums not position the visitor as an artist, curator, or art historian? How can we all – visitors and museum staff alike – give ourselves license to create and innovate within the museum experience?