The Museum Column

cultural intelligence, exhibit reviews, museum news


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Is your museum Open?

How many ways can a museum be open? There are many ways, too many to discuss them all in this post, but here are a few that have been on my mind recently.

Portrait of Jeanne Kefer by Fernand Khnopff, 1885, Belgian, Brussels, oil of canvas. Getty Center of Los Angeles.

Portrait of Jeanne Kefer by Fernand Khnopff, 1885, Belgian, Brussels, oil of canvas.
Getty Center of Los Angeles.

Be open during hours when people can visit

This seems so simple, and yet for how many decades did museums close their doors every day at the end of the afternoon? Opening one evening a week, usually for a great party, has become almost the norm now. One of the latest late-night opening parties is Nature Nocturne at the Canadian Museum of Nature which invites guests to “Rock the Castle”. These evening events often attract younger adults, who tend to be at work during the day!

Opening up on-line images of collections to free downloads

I downloaded the image above for free from the website of the J. Paul Getty Museum. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam also provides open access to downloading images. Here is one of my favourite paintings of theirs:

Woman reading a letter.  Johannes Vermeer, 1663.  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Woman reading a letter. Johannes Vermeer, 1663. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Although many museums have digital photos on-line, relatively few allow downloading for free. A recent guest blog post by Adrienne Berney for Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 makes a cogent argument for opening up access to fee-free image downloads and other methods of increasing access to museum collections.

Crowdsourcing topics for exhibits

Museums have tested public interest in potential exhibit topics identified by museum staff for many years. This market research technique can be useful in helping to identify attendance targets and managing the financial risk involved in creating expensive exhibitions. With a slightly different twist, the Chicago History Museum recently announced that they would be opening up even the initial choices for exhibit topics to the public, via crowdsourcing. Their process invites suggestions for exhibits on any topic related to Chicago history for a “family friendly museum”. Museum staff will narrow down the suggestions to a short list, then ask the public to vote for their favourite. This technique is a new one for the museum world and it will be very interesting to see how it works.

And so, with everyone else in the digital age, museums are moving towards being more open. How is it going? It varies from museum to museum depending on a whole variety of the complex ways that museums relate to the public realm. What is your opinion? Are museums open enough yet?