Bringing together theory and practice in digital museum communication
Digital media emerged as a major component of contemporary museum communication practice, playing an increasingly important part in exhibition, education and outreach, reshaping marketing and audience development efforts, and producing new kinds of engagement and participation by audiences, both in-gallery and globally over the Internet. Going beyond the institutional website, museums communicate now increasingly through a variety of online channels such as Youtube videos, Flickr galleries, live podcasts, blogs, Twitter feeds, and social services such as Facebook, and through new ways of in-gallery visitor support such as QR-codes and mobile phone apps. This proliferation of novel genres and technologies in museum communication gives rise to new practices that affect the entire lifecycle of museum curatorship and service provision: for example, enhancing collection documentation by means of crowdsourcing; co-curating of online and even physical exhibits, facilitated by means of online communication; and, enhancing the value and impact of the museum visit through post-visit online communication and virtual community participation. Locative media, wireless and mobile communications, social networked and pervasive computing technologies are important enablers of these developments.
These developments in museum practice have far reaching implications for the raison-d-etre, sociocultural impact and future of museums, that have yet to be considered systematically in the context of museological theory, epistemology and strategy. They problematise established notions of materiality and authenticity; they introduce new, intriguing possibilities with regard to embodiment and affect in museum experience; they establish a new ecosystem for the development of practices of memory; they shift the balance between institutional authority and visitor empowerment; they alter, subtly, the established scopic regime and kinaesthetic nature of the museum visit; they produce new fields of negotiation for the politics of identity, representation and recognition; they undermine (or, rather, reinforce?) the spatial nature and sociality of the museum as part of the public sphere.
The time is ripe to take stock of the implications of digital media practice on museum theory, and, conversely, on the potential import of theoretical reflection upon museum communication practice. This professional forum aims to bring together international innovators in museum digital communication with leading researchers representing a variety of disciplinary perspectives (including information, media and museum studies), in an open exchange of experiences and viewpoints regarding the current ‘state of the union’ in museum digital communication, with a view to developing theoretically-informed approaches to both critiquing of existing digital experiences and creating new ones. The forum will be structured around short keynote interventions by invited speakers, each focusing on a theoretical or museum policy challenge stemming from particular applications of digital media in museums, and followed by moderated debate between all forum participants. The results of the debate will be brought together at the end of the session by a rapporteur.
The dialogue between practitioners and theorists in this professional forum will contribute to the establishment of a much-needed theoretical perspective in museum digital media practice, and, conversely, to an evidence-based consideration of innovative practice in digital museum communication by researchers. Participants stand to gain from an intense dialogue bringing together theory and practice, and are also expected to bring forward for consideration and debate their own practical experiences and theoretical reflections.