Having entered the fourth industrial revolution which is characterized by advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality and other technologies, the way we live, they way we spend our leisure time and even the way we learn has completely transformed (Gleason, 2018, p.4). At the same time, the economic disparities, migration and social inequities have created new challenges in many sectors of our modern societies and revealed a need for inclusivity, multivocality and societal engagement, in order to facilitate social cohesion (Kinsley, 2016, p.474). In this constantly changing and evolving environment how can museums stay up-to-date and keep engaging with their audience, whose needs and desires keep changing?
In this paper, I will investigate the benefits of integrating the “maker culture” approach in museums, as a solution to the new, demanding needs of museum audience for an active, multi-modal learning and the need for openness and inclusivity. In this ever changing world, museums should connect citizens of different age, sex, culture, educational background and abilities and support their interaction. This case study allows the integration of different resources that support my arguments and offer a deeper understanding of the “maker culture” practice.
In the following lines, I will refer to the background of the case, where I will analyze the challenges museums face today and why there is a need for alter. Next, I will continue evaluating the case, explaining why museums in a large scale struggle to solve issues such as interactivity, active participation, inclusivity and multivocality. Then, I will make my proposal, by presenting “maker culture” as an excellent solution to improve specific challenges of the cultural field and I will recommend ways for the best possible application of the method, so that it can better adapt on audience’s needs.
Kathleen McLean, in her article “Do museums have a future?” published in 2007, reflects on the changes museums had been through until then and what would be their future. Comparing editorials from 1958 with more recent ones, she found out many similarities on the ideas of improving the quality of visitors’ experience. Among the articles it was stated that museums need to “enrich and enlarge the life of a person” and that the important thing is not what it is exposed inside the museum, but “what the visitor takes with them when they leave” (McLean, 2007, p.111). According to these articles, in order to offer a memorable experience to the visitors, museums should trigger their curiosity and make them search even further the points of their interests (McLean, 2007, p.111). All these seem as contemporary ideas that haven’t been put into practice yet. However, this is not completely true, as since then, there have been remarkable efforts on redesigning museums in a way that they serve people’s needs. Comparing 1958, 2007 and 2020, I would claim that the problem is not that the museum sector is not evolving, but that its evolution has a slower speed compared to the fast-changing needs of the visitors.
Apart from some museums, which constitute some astonishing exceptions around the world and create remarkable exhibitions, events and workshops, taking advantage of new technologies and media, in a larger scale, museums seem to lose part of their visitors. According to statistics, the number of visitors in art museums has dipped 5% from 2002 to 2012, while people around the age of 75 or older seem to be the most frequent visitors (Cannell, 2015). These numbers explain the concern of museum workers with regard to the attendance of younger generations in museums and especially the millenials. The latter is a generation that was born and raised on a time when technological tools and media had already been an incorporated part of our everyday lives. This technological culture of millenials has influenced the way they understand the world, the way they approach education and how knowledge is transmitted (Gibson & Sodeman, 2010, p.66). What they expect is a vast amount of information, coming from multimedia modes, emphasizing on the entertainment of the process (Gibson & Sodeman, 2010, p.66). In this day and age, how do we expect engage this audience with the static exhibitions in museums and galleries? How can museums still function as an efficient place for education and inspiration? From this point of view, museums tent to become an obsolete medium for spreading knowledge, which should adapt to the rapidly changing environment the next years.
Apart from their educational role, museums should function as social and democratic institutions, as well. Far from the elitist role they used to have, over the last three decades museums have increased public access to their services and activities. However, groups of people that are traditionally underrepresented, such as ethnic minorities or people with cognitive or any other kinds of disabilities seem not be completely included in museums’ community (Kinsley, 2016, p.476). Additionally, serious incidents of sexual harassment (Weinstein case) and racism (George Floyd case) that took place in the recent years shouldn’t leave cultural sector untouched. Museums, as cultural institutions, should function as bridges between different cultures, sexes, social status or educational background. Based on their social role, they should be the place where people learn how to evolve together, exchange knowledge, respect each other and appreciate diversity.
EVALUATION OF THE CASE
The last three decades museums have evolved to a great extent in order to adapt on visitors’ needs, although there are still much to be done. A reason why we are still far from reaching the goals mentioned earlier is the lack of imagination about what a museum could be, in other words the lack of thinking “outside of the box”. Following the traditional path might feel “safe” for museum workers, but this is not what will bring the change that will transform museums from conservative to innovative areas. This security keeps museums predictable in a constantly changing world (McLean, 2007, p.119). Experimentation could be critical to test what works and what doesn’t. Bureaucracies and fund constraints that are needed for special equipment, such as technological devices or other materials and tools that could be used for activities might be another reason why museums evolve slowly (McLean, 2007, p.118). This, along with the need of trained special staff such as educators, designers, developers and evaluators constitute obstacles museums have to deal with in order to achieve. For these reasons, the solution should have an adjustable cost according the available funds, be visitor-centered, promoting creativity and inclusivity, active participation and experimentation with synchronous tools that adapt to visitors’ needs.
As an effective solution to the challenges museums face today, I propose the application of the “maker culture” in museums and their transformation into makerspaces. The latter are defined as informal sites that promote creativity, innovation and learning in fields such as arts, engineering and science. People of different ages, races, educational background and abilities are welcome to cooperate, apply their skills and create a new product by blending physical and digital technologies (Sheridan et al., 2014, p.505).
Under the umbrella of the Do It Yourself approach, makers are working on contemporary projects, such as 3D printing, circuits and electronics, robotics. This way, people have the chance to explore synchronous technological tools and create their own products, using their own hands, something that could reshape the typical museum experience. This process turns the participants from consumers of technology to creators. At the same time, by working on more traditional arts and crafts such as metalwork, woodwork or sewing, people familiarize themselves with the history and the evolution of technology. What attracts younger generations to participate is the opportunity to choose between different projects and processes according to their interests, something not so frequent in schools (Sheridan et al., 2014, p.527). Open-ended, solo projects and collaborative groups are some of the available choices in maker spaces. This flexibility makes learning process to adapt on visitors’ needs, turning makerspaces into sites of education and entertainment. This way, museums could transform conventional “passive learning” to active, “learning through doing”, the effectiveness of which has been proved by many scholars.
As no particular experience is required, people with thirst for knowledge no matter their educational background can contribute to this process by using only their enthusiasm and skills. However, experts or maker facilitators support and help new less experienced members to make them feel part of the community. Spending several hours there, many participants claim that being part of makerspace feels as if they were with families and friends (Sheridan et al., 2014, p.527). The social interactions between them create the feeling of inclusivity without restrictions. Ethnic minorities often claim that they don’t feel included, as they cannot identify themselves with what is displayed in museums (Kinsley, 2014, p.477). However, a shared passion about making could be the connecting link between different cultures and languages. Respect, mutual aid, appreciation, constant evolution, team spirit are of the values shared between the members.
Apart from multidisciplinary and multigenerational sites, makerspaces are also open to people with different abilities, regardless the physical or sensory challenges they may face. The visual, audio, digital but also tangible tools that are used in these places create a multimodal and multisensory environment that could facilitate the participation of people with disabilities to an extent and offer access to knowledge and innovation (Seo, 2019, p. 517). As a result, museums-based makerspaces could contribute to fill the gap between generally and special education (Seo, 2019, p. 515). Additionally, women that are to an extent excluded from the fields of science and engineering could find stimuli to get involved in such initiatives, balancing the male-domination in these fields (Marie, 2018, p.157). All these aspects could contribute to the openness, multivocality, inclusivity and accessibility the museums require for their demanding role as contemporary cultural institutions.
An admirable example of a museum-makerspace is the Makeshop in Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, which is addressed mainly to families. Apart from a variety of educational activities, experienced facilitators and great making equipment, the museum has invested a lot in inclusivity. The participants that are also visitors to the museum can be toddlers, teenagers, parents or even grandparents. To support their social relations they organize weekly workshops for students or adults and field trips. Moreover, there is a special arrangement for low-income families that participate in Makeshop and cannot afford admission to the museum to balance economical inequities (Sheridan et al., 2014, p.519). This way the museum function as a mirror that reflects an improved image of our society.
Given the challenges in the cultural field that are analyzed in this case study, I believe that the proposed solution on the application of “maker culture” approach in museums could change museums’ future. Museums could adopt a leadership role in promoting new forms of learning, critical thinking, innovation, creativity, openness and acceptance. Makerspaces open the way to this direction, though much effort is still needed from curator, educators and designers to make museums reflecting the changing values of our society. Supporting and integrating traditionally underrepresented groups such as ethnic minorities or people with disabilities is a matter of social justice (Kinsley, 2016).
In practical terms, what it needs to apply maker culture in a museum is a space that could function as a lab, which in some cases might be hard to find. However, there are projects that could take place even on an open space close to the museum. To facilitate the process of making trained stuff and educators might be needed. Alternatively, more expert participants could take this role and help inexperienced members develop their skills. The price of the technological equipment might vary according to the tools and materials. This can be manageable according to the available funds.
This work does not cover the full range of how makerspaces function or the differences among a variety of such sites. The maker culture approach could be applied in many other fields, such as education or work. The goal of this study is to give an overview on how maker culture could fill some specific gaps of the cultural institutions, like museums.
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Cannell, M. (2015, March 17). Museums Turn to Technology to Boost Attendance by Millennials. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/19/arts/artsspecial/museums-turn-to-technology-to-boost-attendance-by-millennials.htm
Gibson, L., & Sodeman, W. (2014). Millennials and Technology: Addressing the Communication Gap in Education and Practice. Organization Development Journal, 32, 63.
Gleason, N. W. (2018). Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (1st ed. 2018 ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-0194-0
Kinsley, R. P. (2016). Inclusion in museums: a matter of social justice. Museum Management and Curatorship, 31(5), 474–490. https://doi.org/10.1080/09647775.2016.1211960
Maric, J. (2018). The gender-based digital divide in maker culture: features, challenges and possible solutions. Journal of Innovation Economics & Management, n° 27(3), 147. https://doi.org/10.3917/jie.027.0147
McLean, K. (2007). Do Museum Exhibitions Have a Future? Curator: The Museum Journal, 50(1), 109–121. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2151-6952.2007.tb00253.x
Seo, J. Is the Maker Movement Inclusive of ANYONE?: Three Accessibility Considerations to Invite Blind Makers to the Making World. TechTrends 63, 514–520 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-019-00377-3
Sheridan, K., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B., Brahms, L., Jacobs-Priebe, L., & Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the Making: A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505–531. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.84.4.brr34733723j648u
Uncovering the Principles of Maker Learning | HundrED Pittsburgh Spotlight. (2019, September 23). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6krOtd2lSw