After a few weeks of both articles wondering if the Met Museum was in decline and an article by Thomas P. Campbell reminding the importance of funding the arts, a big news shook up the museum world: Thomas P. Campbell, director of the largest museum in New York for 8 years, has resigned at the end of February. His resignation was announced after the stepping down of several senior staff members of the Met.
The main reason for this wave of departures and resignations seems to be financial: While the museum’s attendance has broken records during the last couple of years, Thomas P. Campbell leaves the museum with a multi-million deficit, partly caused by the opening of Met Breuer, a settlement around the admission charge, an expensive yet criticised change of logo and the decline of retail revenue.

But beyond the strictly financial management, some critics seem to believe a wider strategy issue is at stake. As the audience for arts is changing and needs museums to adapt to them, did the Met try hard enough? On a digital level, it did launch the successful Met MediaLab in 2013 and it used to be a space for museum staff, artists, students and other outside players to meet around tech and innovative project. The Met MediaLab is still considered a model experience in the museum field but closed at the end of September 2016. Then again, projects like the Met Museum app may not have been fully embraced by audiences (the app has 50,000 downloads on Android, which seems low compared to the more than 6 million annual visitors of the museum). Last month, the Met released its digitised artwork collection in a dedicated platform and make public domain artifacts free to use, but with no clear strategy or incentives for people to use and reuse the content.
Those projects are both obvious steps for a museum as big as the Met, but they still require guidance and direction to fit properly in the museum’s overall strategy and be presented to the audience as something bringing real added values to their on-site or online experience – which may not have been the case at the Met.
One reason for this may be the Met Museum decided to really invest in digital projects a bit late. Maybe even too late to stay on top of the trend and make digital and innovation into a real strong point of the museum’s strategy.

A little bit over a fortnight ago, we gathered a mix of culture, design and tech professionals at the Google Art Institute around Don Undeen for a creative evening on “Building creative spaces in museums”.

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Why this night? Well first, because of a firm belief that museums increasingly need a complex set of skills and know-how which do not originate from the cultural field. Our very name is a statement that museums are the sum of just about everyone who connects with them. The vision we wanted to share is that in the future, working will all kinds of different people won’t be an option, and it won’t be a walk in the park, either. Creative spaces are intermediary areas where people, technologies, collaboration forms and audience engagement organically inform one another. In a nutshell, they are labs for the future.

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And secondly, we knew just the right person to do so. We have crossed paths with Don Undeen in 2013 at the first edition of WAM, where he delivered one of the most amazing and telling speeches we ever saw in a conference. Don impersonated a cool curator and stuffy curator while explaining the exemplary work he led at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as founder of the Media Lab for 8 years.

Our evening was an occasion for participants to learn more about the vision behind the Media Lab as well as gather new ideas of collaboration for their own organisation. Here a few tweets we really loved and that sum up the spirit of the night well.

1.Museums people and techies fuel each other’s creativity and accelerate innovation together. Therefore, creative spaces are not and odd thing to build in a museum

Indeed: “Museums are the place to be” if you want to profoundly think/do about technology (@donundeen) #wamlearningpic.twitter.com/eSKFtx4Ngt

— Julien Dorra (@juliendorra) 12 Octobre 2015

2. Design, technology and new inputs are meant to help, facilitate and clarify museums for their audience (except when your picture is blurry)

les applications servent à y voir plus clair dans les couloirs du musée…;) @donundeen#wamlearningpic.twitter.com/PPZ1V5xR9E

— Laure Pressac (@LaurePressac) 12 Octobre 2015

3. Creative spaces are a new professional, human and business model. If done well, they are at the forefront of every museum’s daily challenges

This is why the #metmedialab is working! #medialab#fablab@metmuseum thanks @donundeen#wamlearningpic.twitter.com/bq93F2RqIr

— DianeDrubay|Buzzeum (@DianeDrubay) 12 Octobre 2015

Here are a few of the project that the Met’s Media Lab has carried out through the years:

3D hackathon

Here’s one of the models created by mixing exhibits for the Met and 3D printing! #wamlearning pic.twitter.com/G8kbW38BKR

— wearemuseums (@WeAreMuseums) 12 Octobre 2015

Oculus Rift-powered  imaginary  Met objects

Considering actual reality is already awesome, the Media Lab created a imaginary Met wih crazy objects! #wamlearning pic.twitter.com/6kbooaemOS — wearemuseums (@WeAreMuseums) 12 Octobre 2015

Digitart

Considering actual reality is already awesome, the Media Lab created a imaginary Met wih crazy objects! #wamlearning pic.twitter.com/6kbooaemOS

— wearemuseums (@WeAreMuseums) 12 Octobre 2015

Accessibility

Students from Parsons worked with users on accessibility at the Met and universal design. #wamlearning pic.twitter.com/9rwrxfxqiX — wearemuseums (@WeAreMuseums) 12 Octobre 2015

More 3d printing….with sugar (genius)

Guess what, this is a prototype of a giant 3D printed rosary bead made out of SuGaR! #wamlearningpic.twitter.com/zD3d2SEFcw

— wearemuseums (@WeAreMuseums) 12 Octobre 2015

Also, have a look at 4 of our own participants’ ideas that emerged from the night of learning and sharing. Maybe there is one you want to pick to incubate in your museum? (apparently food x museums is a big hit)

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Coming June 2016 : A day-long workshop on implementing creative spaces, for museums and innovation professionals

Following up with that fun night dedicated to get people from different backgrounds in one room to talk to one another, we are doing the real thing in mid 2016! Join us in Paris for a day long workshop with Don where we will set out to help cultural organisation design the creative space that works for them, and connect them to the infrastructure they need. More information will be unveiled very soon.

In the mean time, if you have not met Don yet, here is a brief introductory video:

Don Undeen Meets We Are Museums Learning (ITW 12-10-2015, Paris) from WeAreMuseums on Vimeo.

Thank you to everyone who came and thank you to our wonderful hosting venue!

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