Our changing work

by Jo-Anne Sunderland Bowe, Heritec

The work of The Creative Museum project reflects and acknowledges – at the Council of Europe level — the importance of participatory and engaging cultural practices. In its 2014 report, the Council of Europe emphasised the importance of a ‘people-centred and culture-based approach to foster sustainable development and the importance of transparent, participatory and informed systems of governance for culture in order to address the needs of all members of society5. The Creative Museum project, from its inception, seeks to make those connections with different communities for the benefit of the institutions we represent or work with.
The initial project proposal outlined the potential role of both digital engagement and the maker community in light of the European economic downtown mentioned previously. With reference to the Council of Europe 2014 report, the project seeks to explore “new opportunities brought by globalisation, digitisation and new technologies which are changing the way cultural heritage is created, accessed and used6.
As The Creative Museum project has developed and evolved we have seen digital technology as one of the tools that might be used as a means or method of interpreting collections, but the focus of the project has become to be as much about learning from and through the maker community about creative practices.
Through the Maker-in-Residence training programme, Museomix training, The Creative Museum partner dissemination events and independent work by museum partners, the project has sought to develop stronger ties with the maker community by learning about new approaches through shared practices. This has been well documented by a Creative Museum project partner, the Chester Beatty Library, through their succession of Museums and Makers Inspiring Each Other events on their Education Blog and YouTube channel.
Other trends are emerging which show the deepening links between museums and makers, yet have their origins outside of the sector. The influence of the maker culture in academic circles is increasing. Around the world, many universities are creating maker spaces to encourage cross-disciplinary approaches to innovation across different faculties: Institute of Making, UCL, UK and Maker Hub, Georgetown University, USA are two examples. By turns, museums, which often have the same types of interdisciplinary staff and missions as academic institutions, can learn from the success and indeed failure of these types of spaces.
Museums are creating ‘Spaces for Yes’ and spaces where experimentation and play are freely encouraged. These ‘Spaces for Yes’ might be places within the museum inspired by makerspaces such as ‘Fab-Labs’, or spaces for creative thinking where anything is possible: ‘127º’, at Cap Sciences, is a good example, and M-Shed in Bristol has a enticingly-named ‘Tinkering Space’. The role and influence of maker culture in cultural institutions has been recently documented in a report for Dee Halligan and Daniel Charney in The cultural role(s) of makerspaces – from maker culture to making culture: what’s going on? In this report, Halligan and Charney combine observation to changes in their own practice with trends they have observed globally with maker culture and the growing realisation that maker community is gaining influence outside of its own original sphere, particularly within the cultural sector.
As a result of these and other developments, museums are rethinking their approaches to collections in response to the maker movement (for example Derby Silk Mill and Jærmuseet) and are recruiting dedicated personnel who have positions such as ‘Head of Making’. They are focussed more on using human-centred design practices and accepting a sense of risk in their interpretive approaches.
Increasingly museums are embracing the ‘new’ ways of thinking and doing, using models such as Museomix, and connecting to ever wider communities by encouraging protoyping and open interpretations of museum collections through makeathons and hackathons. The Recommendations: building a creative museum includes examples of these approaches.
5 Council of Europe (2014) Council conclusions on the participatory governance of cultural heritage p1.
6 Ibid p.2