Getting stuck into The Participatory Museum (part 2)

An open sketchbook post in preparation for 5 days residency-style alongside Play Ground. See this initial post for more background. Open to influence, rather than just on display: all constructive conversations and contributions welcomed. All posts in this series can be found under the Play Ground tag.

In this post I continue reading The Participatory Museum to get a critical foundation in different approaches to… participation in museums.

As before, below are fragments from the book that seem particularly pertinent. I’ve copied and pasted them across to here as a sort of scrap book as I’ve come across them. Sometimes I’ve added notes, sometimes I’ve added italics, sometimes I’ve added nothing. In an attempt at making things easier to find again later, I’ve organised the cuttings under links to the sections of Nina’s book that they came from.


This technique, like all audience-centric initiatives, requires staff members to trust that visitors can and will find the content that is most useful to them. When staff members put their confidence in visitors in this way, it signals that visitors’ preconceptions, interests, and choices are good and valid in the world of the museum. And that makes visitors feel like the owners of their experiences.

Reminds me a little of the saying “the pictures are better on radio”. Leave space for people to make their own meaning etc etc

Cultural institutions are often terrible at this, especially when it comes to visitors. Even at museums where I’m a member, I am rarely welcomed as anything but another body through the gate. This lack of personalization at entry sets an expectation that I am not valued as an individual by the institution. I am just a faceless visitor.

To some extent, ameliorating that facelessness is a simple matter of providing good guest service. Vishnu Ramcharan manages the front-line staff (called “hosts”) at the Ontario Science Centre. He trains hosts with a simple principle: hosts should make every visitor feel wanted. As Ramcharan put it: “The hosts shouldn’t just be excited generally that visitors are there, but that you specifically showed up today. They should make you feel that you are someone they are thrilled to see at the Science Centre.” This may sound trite, but when you see Ramcharan’s smile, you feel as you do in the hands of any accomplished party host—desired, special, and ready to engage.

Magic vest! Can I wear a magic vest?!

The small presentation of self-expression becomes a kind of beacon that links me to others in a loose social network of affinity.

Aspirational stickers :)
Which behaviour do you secretly most harbour a desire to do when faced with a staid gallery setting?

These kinds of profiles are only useful if the institution can deliver an enhanced experience based on them. In Heroes, the enhancement was the opportunity to find and explore hero-specific content threads throughout the exhibition, and to connect with other people about their different identities.

hmmmmm. What enhanced experience? Link aspirations to the exhibits?
Will people chant together at Sculpture for Football Songs if they’re all wearing stickers saying they want to be noisy in galleries?

Rather than focusing on extending single visits with a pre- and post-visit, it can be more valuable to link multiple visits with offsite experiences.

Starting to sound very transmedia!
(I also think I’ve started reading this through the lens of other projects, since a lot of this chapter is way beyond the scope of my 5 days in the corner of a room. Will be good to see what I can apply, though.)

There’s no “delete” button for the postal service


establish an expectation that you might visit multiple times

See you in a day or two for the next chapter!