Museomix: People Make Museums
Mar Dixon, UK
How can you make your museum an open and co-creative place?
How can you open your museum to enthusiastic teams of designers, hackers, makers, artists, specialists, creators of all sorts, other museum and free spirited people?
How can you invite them to co-create, in a timely fashion, and a conducive environment, new and inventive ways of visiting/using your museum?
How can you help visitors become users? How can you make your museum open, networked, and participative?
Museomix is an experiment to help you do all these things!
Over three consecutive days, participants design, co-create and test new ways to mediate exhibitions, and experience the museum.
On the third day, prototypes are implemented right in the exhibitions spaces, allowing visitors to test them.
The very first edition took place in Les Arts Décoratifs museum, Paris, in November 2011. The second was in Lyon in october 2012, in the Musée Gallo-Romain. In 2013, Museomix will take place in several places around the world (UK, Quebec, France...)
Keywords: co-creation, prototypes, open, participation, participatory, experiences, service design, communities, innovation, hacking, disruption, digital, fun
What is Museomix ?
Over three consecutive days, participants co-create and test new ways to mediate exhibitions.
Where does Museomix come from?
Museomix is inspired by the open, participative and networked practices that have emerged from the web. It’s an event-driven community of museum innovators that harnesses their collective energies over three days, and enables them to change the museum from within.
The Museomix project was founded in 2011 by five very different persons and entities working in the culture and innovation sectors: the agencies Nod-a and Buzzeum, the research laboratory Erasme, Samuel Bausson and Julien Dorra. It is now driven by an active community of art and history enthusiasts, museum staff, innovators, designers, coders, community organizers, makers and tinkerers that grows each year, including The French Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Why is Museomix here?
If we are not satisfied with the way museums work, why not make the museum we would love to visit and work for? Why not make it a creative platform? This is the question we asked when setting up Museomix.
We love museums, but sometimes it feels like museums don’t really love us back. They are filled with rules, shushing guards, admonitions against photography. They can give us a sense that we’re somewhere we don’t belong, where our rights and agency are diminished, where we are more limited than usual to do, or play, as we please.
Museum professionals – especially those working in digital and the web – are frequently frustrated: there are many new possibilities for mediation and the museum experience. They are discussed in conferences and prototyped in workshops. But when museum professionals try to bring these ideas back to their own museums, innovation can seem out of reach.
Museomix was born out of this frustration. It’s a way to bridge the gap between participatory web culture and institutional museum culture, between peer-to-peer logic and pyramidal organisation.
Museomix wants to demonstrate that museums can work differently, and that a disruptive experience can initiate change throughout an organisation.
Over three days Museomix make it happen for real in museums where people can be creative and have an immediate impact.
Beyond visitors: reaching out to museum user communities
Visitors want many things out of their museum visit: students, teachers, parents and children; designers, artists and photographers; tourists and researchers; amateurs and bloggers – all have different motivations to visit.
If you look closely at their habits and practices, you’ll find that they are much more than visitors: they are really museum users.
Beyond simply watching, they seek diverse experiences: photographing, drawing, posing, dancing, learning, loitering, meeting, eating – experiences that they like to share with friends, and that they can’t always have in museums.
Museomix opens the door to people who want to make a place for themselves. Museomix lets visitors imagine a cultural space that let them become engaged users and evolves with them.
The Museomix community shares a vision of today’s museum, co-edited in 2012:
- a museum that is open and inclusive to people, their uses, and the use of their content;
- a museum that is connected, and works outside-in with its user communities;
- a participatory museum, where contemplating is one of many ways to relate artworks, where people can share and create – a read-write museum.
Museomix allows users to own their experiences. Users help museums to change.
What does Museomix make?
Prototyping new museum experiences
The first edition of Museomix took place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs of Paris, in November 2011. Around a hundred participants, working in teams and as support, built eleven prototypes in eleven rooms of the museum.
An overview of the eleven projects can be found here: http://www.erasme.org/-Museomix- (French).
In 2012, the Musée Gallo-Romain de Fourvière in Lyon was selected to host the second event.
More than 150 people “invaded” the museum and worked together to produce ten prototypes of new museum experiences. Each was built in-situ, in a dedicated space.
They prototyped a sound projection that revealed the memories and secrets of a lavish interior; a painting that danced with Kinect body-tracking; robot-chariots that animated a Roman mosaic; and interactive video projections that explained a bronze roman legal tablet.
See the projects here: http://www.museomix.com/les-equipes-et-leurs-projets/ (French).
Outcomes for the participants and coaches:
- Diverse professionals get to network outside their domains: coders meet and work with curators, historians meet makers. These interactions go beyond meeting at a conference, as they actually work together.
- An opportunity for serious play without client pressure – a rare occurrence for many professionals.
- Exposure to new work and collaboration methodologies, including a better and more integrated use of social networks and digital technologies, rapid prototyping, and hackathon-style events.
- Awareness of and practice with new technologies. For example, in 2011 a team that included a sound designer had the opportunity to experiment with an ultra-sound cannon. They created a sound installation that made use of its particular capabilities.
- A sense of ownership by applying their personal outlook on the museum, and “their own place” within it.
Outcomes for the museum:
- A “booster” that unites the team, outside of the routine.
- A space to try out new management rules, beyond the usual hierarchy.
- A collective experience of novel ways to engage the public.
- An intense action-based training in how to make the museum more open and participatory.
- A way to examine itself, its advantages, shortcomings, and priorities, through fresh eyes and feedback from outside its domain.
- A project-starter to test new uses and introduce new ideas.
- Openness to involvement with new people, and the larger communities of visitors and partners.
- Press and public relations opportunities.
- Distinction as a progressive institution and showing a willingness to “give it a go.”
Outcomes for partners:
- A sandbox to test their ideas and tools, and a rare opportunity to do that in a real environment.
- Contacts with an active community of potential users and clients.
- Public proof of their “know-how” that enhances their reputation.
- A great reference they can communicate in the future.
What does Museomix look like from the inside?
An array of tools and experts are available to help participants make their prototype: coaches, tutors, technicians and coders; fabrication tools, media studios, and rapid prototyping devices.
The Three Days:
Participants work early and finish late – 8:00am to 11:00pm in the 2012 edition. Teams manage their time as they see fit, but there are scheduled breaks and milestones along the way: general gatherings, and on-going meetings with the content team, tech team or web team to make sure projects are on track. As Museomix started as a French event, mealtimes are not neglected.
Here is how the three days of Museomix unfold.
Day 1: Exploring the Museum, sharing ideas and setting a direction.
When the doors open in the morning, participants and coaches are greeted and receive a badge representing their skill category.
After a tour of the exhibitions and collections is given by museum staff, participants are helped to form teams around shared ideas. Anyone is allowed to pitch and defend a personal project. “I want visitors to talk with historical figures.” “I want visitors to be able to play with robots, to dance…”
The self-organization unfolds like an unconference or barcamp; it is a phase where people mingle, confront ideas, and gauge interest before moving-on to action. At the end of this team-building process, each team is formed with a diverse complement of talents, and is ready to go.
Teams regroup around their dedicated tables and start defining their projects, exploring the situation, and imagining the next possibility. After guided exchange, they settle on a common direction.
Team members point to good examples, in other places, linked to their ideas. They begin to look for content documentation. They take notes, and sketch draft storyboards of interactions. They role-play variations of their scenarios in the exhibition spaces.
Coaches are there to help out, provide incentives and opportunities, and create links with similar projects going on in other teams. They bring in their expertise of technological possibilities, visitor interaction, or content to be revealed (archivists, history, art history…). They are a safeguard that projects are exploring boundaries while staying practical.
In the evening each teams presents its project, explaining how a visitor’s experience will be different once the project is complete. This creates a space for all participants to ask questions related to each project. Through this examination, project teams gain insights, learn things, or make links between ideas they might not have considered.
Day 2: Prototyping, testing solutions, adjusting
Having received a first round of feedback from peers and co-organisers, the teams are now on course. Everyone collaborates to start building their prototypes: content experts, designer/creators, developer/makers, communication people, and museum professionals.
Facilitators and coaches, including technical, content, and domain experts, make sure participants get what they need, and help them get unstuck. A cutting-edge workshop is available to help realize the prototypes.
In the ‘Fablab’, teams have access to a range of computer-controlled machines:
- a laser cutter and engraver that can work on fiberboard, cardboard, paper, acrylic, leather, etc.;
- 3D printers that enable teams to create real physical objects from 3D models;
- vinyl cutters that can create stickers and other appliqués.
At the tech shop, teams can borrow a variety of devices including iPads, sound systems, and basic electronic components.
In the wood workshop, larger objects and supports can be built using traditional hand tools – drills, jigsaws, etc.
After building all day, each team shares a short video of their project in the evening. They tell the story of their prototype from the visitor’s point of view, using Lego or paper cut-outs to show what the visitor might do, think, and feel when interacting with the project.
Day 3: Implementation, real-time testing, and exposing prototypes to visitors
On the third day morning, teams finish up their prototypes and implement them in the exhibitions areas. They make labels, wall text and short project briefs. Regular visitors start coming in to test the solutions and provide feedback to the teams.
In 2013, a fourth day will be added, fully dedicated to demonstrating the prototypes. It will give more time for teams to finalize their prototype on the third day, and more time for the general public to experience them.
How does it work?
Reaching out to museums and communities
Starting in January, a call for proposals is announced. This gives the interested public time to approach museums who may be right for Museomix – and museums time to consider becoming involved.
In just a few days, Museomix is short enough for museums to open themselves to experiences they are not used to. Museomix makes it safe for institutions to test new practices, to let outsiders come in and play – with the museum, with its collections, with its exhibitions.
In France, the momentum has been growing. This year, several museums are getting prepared to participate. But not all museums are ready for a successful Museomix. Museomix organizers have identified two keys to success:
Strong museum engagement:
A host institution must be able to provide a sufficient perimeter of intervention, and a high-level of staff involvement.
Several rooms of exhibition space, along with workspace and a minimum technical infrastructure, must be available for teams to “remix”.
A Museum Project Manager and a Museum Technical Consultant should only form the core of a much broader involvement of museum staff from all departements; stakeholders including directors, curators, docents, electricians, are needed to participate.
A diverse local community:
Museums need to connect with local communities ready to make the museum “their” playground, with their talent and energy.
A local team coordinator needs to identify local and active communities and bring them on board. This requires a broad knowledge of the local context, and contacts across the design, hacker and cultural communities.
A Technical project manager familiar with fablabs, in-situ cultural media, logistical and material requirements is also welcomed…
Getting people on board
Museomix is based on peer inclusion. The co-founders of Museomix are from diverse backgrounds (Museums, communication, design, development, Fablabs…) and have been active in their sector communities. Right from the start they could tap into their respective networks and friends to bring them along. Now participants from the two first editions can also reach out to their own personal networks.
Once the museum has been chosen, the MuseoMix team coordinates meetings, in-person or remotely, to ensure that everyone is, and feels, involved in the project.
Meetings with the museum staff begin months ahead of the event. Spaces are allocated needed by teams and partners, and to make sure that there is room to circulate and exchange. All practical issues are verified, including Wifi, security, opening hours, keys, staff availability, and insurance.
The participant selection process takes place a few months before the event. Candidates must share their motivations for participation, what they can to bring to the table, and how they think they will “fit in” with the project. Willingness to share is a key criteria.
Local team leaders, museum, staff and others work with the core team to ensure the museum workspace within the museum is optimized for proper workflow. This includes accommodating many teams:
- Project team – with space for participants to work
- Fab Lab area – where prototypes can be produced
- Tech shop – where electronic devices can housed and borrowed
- Coordination team – where tracking and scheduling takes place
- Facilitation team – to break and exchange
- Web Team team – material and capacity to communicate about the event and help find online help for projects
- A reception area – to welcome journalists and curious visitors
- Evaluation team – a freely-circulating team dedicated team to observe the process
How are teams made?
A “bingo” system helps teams form around a project: each role has a corresponding color, and each participant has a sticker for their role. When people join a team they add their colored sticker to the project’s bingo board. Once all the space are filled, the team is set to go. This ensures one team isn’t full of curators and another coders. The Bingo system has:
- Developers, coders, software hacker
- Makers handyman
- Graphic Designer, designer, designer object, sound designer
- Content expert, curator, historian
- Cultural mediators, host, link with visitors in physical space
- Blogger, communicating, Community Manager, Journalist
- Other: Joker, Wildcard
Other principles and recipe ingredients
Museomix is community-based
Museomix is a community of people first. Members share a common set of values, and find in Museomix a way to make them real by including museums as part of the community.
Museomix works only because volunteers want to make it work. Museomix successes – and failures – are the results of its members’ initiatives. Museums are not clients to answer to. Museums are part of this intentional community only if they want to be.
That’s the main engine for Museomix: an open community that finds a necessity to contribute to this creative and collaborative event to share a good time and make museums more akin to their ideas of how they should be along the way.
Cultural heritage prototyping
Prototyping interventions on a museum piece or exhibition space allows participants to test ideas immediately. New-media prototype reveal what works and what does not, and helps refine the best experiences over several iterations.
The knowledge gained via prototyping is not specific to an institution or to Museomix. The lessons learned can be applied to various institutions, communities, teams, etc.
A designed sprint format, but not a rush
Museomix is three days of intense work and collaboration, divided into specific steps and deliverables. There are clear deadlines, set in advance.
Museomix is not done as rush, because participants are free to adjust the content and the prototype’s level of details to fit their goals and hypothesis.
During the short production cycles, participants are free to work and organise themselves as they please. The strong constraints help them find better, simpler creative directions.
Seeking to un-silo both networks and practices, inside and outside the museum, Museomix brings together a variety of profiles: journalist-bloggers, screenwriter-graphic designers, hacker-maker-handymen, cultural mediators, geek-academics. Hobbies and expertise mix in a cocktail of competencies.
What’s coming in 2013?
Museomix 2013: One event, many museums
To spark real change in cultural institutions, Museomix is expanding in 2013. We hope to mobilize the energies and initiatives of many communities around their local museums, while assuring a common Museomix spirit across all events. To achieve this, Museomix 2013 will be held simultaneously at multiple museums, in multiple countries, over the same weekend in November.
The Museomix Core Team will help each local community organise their own Museomix. This means more individual decisions to handle, but that more museums can be involved.
How can I get involved?
To start your own Museomix
You will need to organise your local ecosystem: get your museum involved, secure community and technical partners, and find funding. If you become a Local Coordinator the Core Team will provide you with broad guidance: a blueprint for a working Museomix, help building your community ecosystem, communications support, technical requirements, and budget templates. At the end of the day, however, it is up to the Local Coordinator to bring the parts together. Join the co-organisers public mailing list to learn more.
If you want to participate
In the 2013 edition of Museomix, mark November 8-9-10 and 11th (the open door day for prototypes) in your calendar and subscribe to the newsletter to be alerted when applications are open. Join the community on Facebook or on Twitter (use #museomix) to see where a Museomix will be near you!
M. Dixon, Museomix: People Make Museums. In Museums and the Web 2013, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published January 31, 2013. Consulted .