Made You Look, Made You Stare...
Here's a question: if museums never existed, how might we create them? Starting today?
In 2015, thanks to a Winston Churchill Fellowship and the British Council I went in search of some of the world’s most inspiring museums, looking for what helps us to truly connect with what we see. Is it the built form that houses the exhibits; the power of storytelling and the spoken word or the ingenuity of technology?
It didn't take long to see there's a lot happening in the world of museums today: from digital, to dance, to sleepovers, the museum ain't what it used to be. Those school trips spent in gloomy rooms, gazing at stuffed birds and old maps, are a thing of the past. Museums are exciting public spaces for learning, for looking at nice stuff, for hanging out and drinking tea. But, some people complained to me that the need to appeal to more people more of the time has eclipsed some of the other important things that museums do and that the pendulum has swung too far the other way.
Of course, both fun and learning have their value, both have their audiences and the truth is that many museums and galleries navigate a successful route back and forth across this complex territory between fun palace and scholarship. But I was curious to learn how it could be much better. How might new ways of connecting with visitors, or using different materials or braver ways of story-telling transform a museum visit? How might we inspire more connection among communities of people and and more positive change in the world?
My experiences – whether tinkering at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, seeing the museum as ‘anti-archive’ at the Museum of Modern Literature in Stuttgart, looking at the world of design through the eyes of an eight-year-old at Cooper Hewitt, or commemorating 9/11 amid the very mortar of the Twin Towers, all reveal what makes a museum unique, exciting, enjoyable – and useful. But, ultimately, I'm trying to find out if museums have the power the make the world a better place.
In collaboration with architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, where I was a partner, I published a personal account of my journey and share some of my more inspiring discoveries in my book: Made You Look, Made You Stare: inspiration from a museum road trip.