barriers of participation

In my previous post, I talked about how museum visitors are becoming more participators or partners of the museum. Museums are starting to let visitors have an influence and factor in the curation, design and development of museum exhibitions. This is in attempts to decentralize authority in the museum, allotting trust in visitors. Museums are generally seen by the public as the most trustworthy source of information, and with this shift in authority some have begun to question a museums trustworthiness. One way museums have started to overcome a visitors’ questioning of authority, is through transparency. Museums have started making it clear whose voice visitors are experiencing. Offering the voice of the visitor and expert side by side, entrusts a level of ownership and authority into the audience. This starts to resemble the idea of radical trust, which suggest a need for a more intimate and equal relationship between the museum and its visitors. The term accredited to Darlene Fichter, suggests that emergent systems, those built collaboratively by end users, can be successful only if institutions trust their users to also become participants and co-creators. Most of these systems of trust, that rely on the a level of confidence in visitors, have what is referred to as barriers of participation built into them. Barriers of participation are specifically built to encourage and protect through small but insignificant safeguards. It is possible to be inclusive without being reckless when the appropriate caution is exercised.

The Brooklyn Museum, for example, employs what they refer to as the “Brooklyn Posse” to manage and maintain visitor contributions. The Brooklyn Museum invites the “posse” and visitors to tag the collection allowing visitors to find objects and art based on a common language that is not filled with professional jargon. Shelley Bernstein, Chief Director of Technology at the Brooklyn Museum, in an interview with CUNY TV correspondent Brian Lehrer states that, “it is important to recognize that how we [the museum] professionally describe an object is not necessarily how a non-professional would search for it." The “posse” also monitors and moderates comments, making sure all content is appropriate and relevant. The Brooklyn Museum “wants people to comment and contribute”, Shelley continues, “and have an identity, so that all of their contributions are attributed.” This is done through the creation of “posse” profiles. In these profiles, it shows the number of tags, comments, and favorites of each contributor. It also provides basic information and links to other social media sites, like Flickr and blogs. Most importantly, it showcases the importance of museum and visitor relationships, and the confidence in dispensing power and authority into the public. Through the “posse” system of checks and balance, motivated members of this community are able to have an active role in the museum and maintain a dynamic relationship with the museum enhancing their museum experience.