It is no secret that, for the past years, museums have looked for always more ways to reach out to new audiences and launch concepts that are attractive beyond their walls. Of course, social media, immersive virtual museums and new ways to explore and reuse collections are part of this. But to provide a real life experience, some museums have chosen to expand their offer beyond exhibitions to create pop-up museums that let people visit major museums far from their home base.
But what can a pop-up museum bring to an institution and what can different experiences teach us – from the Centre Pompidou Mobile that travelled around France in 2012 and 2013 to the Micro-Folie that la Villette opened at the beginning of 2017 in Paris’s far suburbs?
It is pretty obvious: a pop-up museum away from a museum’s usual venue allows reaching a brand new audience. But who are you reaching with a new place? For the Micro-Folie – where visitors can interact with digitized exhibits from 8 majors Parisian museum – the target audience are disadvantaged young people from the Sevran, a town that is closer to an airport than it is to museums. The structure that is here to stay gives them a unique occasion to discover artworks from institutions that are one or two hours away, all in one place. With a different approach, the Centre Pompidou launched a mobile structure with real artworks that stopped for a few months in 6 cities in France, attracting more visitors than there were inhabitants in each city. While inhabitants from Sevran have very little chance to encounter art outside of the Micro-Folie, the Centre Pompidou Mobile stopped in cities that already had museums or artistic event. While the local audience was definitely new for the Centre Pompidou, it already had access to art in a local setting, which may have made it easier to attract.
In the Micro-Folie, visitors can create their own visit my choosing tours through artworks that will take them through exhibits from eight museums, from the Louvre to the Cité de la Musique. While the experience itself, with the café, the fablab and the stage, has been conceived by La Villette, museums have provided the content and helped create the way visitors can explore it. This builds bridges between artworks and exhibits in a quite unique way. It also required to properly train the museum staff: Guides are usually dedicated to one aisle or gallery of one museum; here, they need to know a bit about each artwork – and were chosen among local young people with no prior museum experience. But what better introduction to the museum and art world than learning about several museums at once and about how their collections can be linked?
Then, bringing several museums together allows to make the Micro-Folie even more attractive by bringing their brands together. What is stronger than the Louvre or the Palace of Versailles? The Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, associated to the Centre Pompidou and the Musée Picasso, among others.
Does it make sense to copy what happens in your museum in a small structure far away? No, it does not, especially if your goal is to attract an audience that is different from your usual one. The Jewish Museum Frankfurt understood it very well: For their Pop Up Boat that was open in September and October 2016, they create a very open and social place, filled with debates, talks and drink. It was a place to meet curator and experts from the Jewish Museum as well as other visitor in an informal setting. The museum is not an exhibition place where people meet anymore. It is now meant for people to meet and reflect. In a similar manner, the Micro-Folie in Sevran hosts a fablab, a café and a stage along with the digital museum – it is a place to meet, learn and create.
The Jewish Museum opened the Pop Up Boat as a space where visitors and professionals could discuss subjects linked to the Jewish community (Aliyah, religion and feminism…) and most interestingly subjects that are directly connected to the Museum and what it should be in the future, how it can be more open to everyone. As pop-up museums should attract a brand new audience, they are a perfect occasion to ask them why they are coming here but not to the museum’s original venue. What is missing for them to come? Are they even aware that you exist? What offer do they expect that you don’t have? If you want to leverage a pop-up museum to attract visitors to your museum, gather as much insight as you can, organize workshops about your museum, allow people to reinvent it and show them they will be listened to!
What could your visitors do if you weren’t afraid for your exhibits? Now that most museums have high-definition digitized models of their art and artefacts, a pop-up museum is a great way to let visitors manipulate the objects. Europeana’s Pop Up Museum is a very light structure that lets visitors engage with exhibits thanks to their smartphone and discover video art in a small but immersive space with quizzes about art objects. The Micro-Folie also allows a different way to explore art: Imagine that you could zoom in on the Mona Lisa, enjoy every single detail of it and then be empowered to compare it with any artwork from the Palace of Versailles. Imagine that you could take any musical instrument from the Cité de la Musique and make it twirl to enjoy it from any point of view on a huge screen.
In an era when museums have more and more content and create more and more partnerships, internet is a great place to showcase any type of newly produced media. But as museums still are places to meet and gather – which is not physically possible online, pop up museums seem like a great solution to create new experiences around innovative content and with audience that could not have been reached otherwise. Did you experiment with a pop up museum yourself? We would love to hear your takeaways!: pop up museums • trends