Community, Collaboration, and Authority: Museums and Technology

Technology is democracy. It can give everyone a voice or a vote. Sometimes this democracy works out well (kickstarter, etc). Sometimes not so much (@sweden, made some news recently). The Walter Art Musem in Baltimore tried crowdsourcing an exhibition that was pretty well received, but the Pittsburgh Symphony’s attempt to find a member on YouTube was nixed.

I am interested in a few questions relating to the democratizing force of technology in museums. First, should curators give up their authority, or have it take a lesser role in concert with visitor knowledge (I believe one of Mills Kelly’s students found an error in the Star Spangled Banner exhibit)? Is curatorial authority still needed? Secondly, is there a limit to the voice of the public? Should comments be moderated in historically sensitive areas (slavery, World War II, etc.). Do comments need to turn into conversation to be truly useful?And finally, what do you do if no one really cares? In a 2004 visitor survey conducted by the Smithsonian, the average age of the visitors was 37 years, only 30% of visitors were younger than 27. The museums subreddit has 25 subscribers with seven posts in two years. Are museums still culturally relevant, and will they be in 20 years?

Profile photo of gkenyon

About gkenyon

Growing up, my passions always included the geekier side of life. After traveling around Europe, history and museums became my main interest for future employment. I graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in History and English in 2008, and have worked as an independent contractor over the past three years at the National Museum of American History, with the last two years working on the musuem's collections on the web project.