Is Museomix changing the cultural mediation in museums?

Imagine all the people…

Imagine a mix of people, all professionals, each in a very specific domain, working and collaborating on projects towards a new cultural mediation in open Museums. It seems like a fun experience, doesn’t it? It’s called Museomix. Etymologically, it is composed of two words: museum, a temple dedicated to the Muses, and mixen, to combine, blend; it therefore means a museum where a sudden collaboration is taking place. What do we mean with a sudden collaboration? In an open Museum, different teams are being set up to work on specific themes for only three long days. Each team is composed of one designer, one coder, one mediator, one communicator, one fabricator, and one museum representative (for more details, see the following article). Although most results are limited in terms of time, some outcomes can be truly fascinating, as Karine Marteau Bazouni described in this article.

However the outcome is not the most important part here. The whole process of this event is far more interesting. In fact, Museomix vehiculates its vision of a working lab museum that evolves with users, and also « a networked museum keeping in touch with its communities ». Until now, it all sounds promising and you are probably thinking  « could I get involved?». Of course! It is simply a community where any person can participate in and eventually become a member of it. In this effort, Museomix relies on the principles of creative collaboration, exchange of knowledge, users interaction, ideas development and discoveries. Their slogan « People make museums! » is a good representation of what they are trying to achieve.

In 2013, Museomix has spread and developed its new concept of museomixing in six different cities located in France, England and Canada. We have mentioned the words cultural mediation earlier on and we would like to come back on this important profession that highlights cultural differences between people, and focuses on the data in problem solving.

You may say I’m a dreamer…

There is always a but. If Museomix fosters an exciting collaborative project for the museums’ teams, the question of the renewal of the cultural mediation remains unresolved. In many ways, what aims to be a reflection on this mediation in museums stays finally only an event. Nothing but an event. Surely original – there is no doubt about that. But, in the medium to long term, it doesn’t disturb museums habits. Museomix appears to be struggling in not limiting itself to a museogeek community addressing only to an already « museum enthusiast » public.
A public who is besides never there during the conception, but only at the time of the return. Under these conditions, the reflection on the new modes of cultural appropriation is truly limited, since it doesn’t take into account the issue of attracting new audiences. This issue remains as the main challenge of such an event, wishing to deconsecrate the museum and make it « less serious ».

    On this issue of the cultural mediation, several limitations can be highlighted. We can both analyze if the museum is considered by Museomix as a context or as a pretext.

                 In a first view, the museum is indeed the context and purpose of Museomix. Besides, the event tends to directly responds to one of the difficulties of the museum. It was for instance the case with the issue of the signage system in the Musée Dauphinois of Grenoble, a real maze for the visitor. It is possible to argue several points to the laudable intention of the museomixeurs.

An essential point is the one of the collaborative work, valued by the digital technology today. An intelligent and cutting criticism has been proposed by Julien Breitfeld (article in French), who emphasized that the collaborative workshops, behind its utopian promises, are ultimately nothing more than an exploitation of the Internet users and an irresponsible disregard towards the social legislation legitimately protecting workers.

    By proposing an event with high economic value (it attracts audiences), responding to some problems of the museum, and basing its process on the free work of the museomixeurs, Museomix plays almost the role of a free service provider. It competes in a rather unfair and irresponsible way with the companies of which it is precisely the livelihood. We wonder then if the creation of the post of « facilitators » really is to ensure the cohesion and the communication within each group, or if their role is rather, as it is announced in half-words, to include the requirement of results in the service.

Dessin d'Emde

However, precisely because Museomix is free and nothing but an event, these results can be questioned. We obviously won’t blame the profusion of ideas as good as each other, but we do may question their sustainability within the museum. Is it really possible to engage the museum teams with digital technology in three days ? The core of this issue on the renewal of mediation remains here. Moreover, how can the mediation’s teams of museums think about, be inspired or even extend the digital devices set up during Museomix, while most of them are not even aware of these problems in the digital technology ? We have asked this question to the mediator of the Musée Dauphinois of Grenoble, and she legitimately questioned herself on this sustainability.

Actually, the limit – perhaps also its strength – of Museomix is probably as follow : it is more about bypassing than rethinking the institution. And we use here the word institution in the broad sense, in the same way as the museum doesn’t seem to be considered as such, but as the symbol of an institution which has to be hacked. The museum is then less considered as a context than as a pretext. Here is the second view we have just underlined : the focus point is not the cultural mediation but the « make together ». In other words, it is not the deconsecration of the museum, but the deconsecration of the institution with its hierarchical and pyramidal features.

…Living for today

A particular criticism was made against the previous editions of Museomix, about its lack of anchoring in the reality of the museum. If this aspect opens some perspectives (for example, imagination is probably more prolific when it is not constrained by budget issues), it especially highlights the strange paradox of asking to some volunteers who know nothing or almost nothing – at least not in a professional dimension – about the museum field to work precisely on this field. This pitfall has been considered during this edition 2013. Most teams had at least one museum expert, even if the off-putting aspect of having to often say « no », « not possible », « not realistic » can let us think that the reality of museums is sometimes still eluded.

However, these limitations suggest that the core issue of Museomix is not about the cultural mediation in museums. It is about how the museum opens to others, making a veritable playground in order to give a limited number of amateurs from all professional origins an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So far, the event doesn’t offer a particular museum experience nor a specific cultural experience. It offers, above all, and it is in this sense that we enjoyed it, a wonderful social experience. It is an excitement of three days in the fast lane, where meetings and exchanges take place. This is what Museomix is all about. If Museomix tends to be a great social experiment, so be it. That’s awesome. But it’s definitely not about changing the cultural mediation.

JC & TM

Find more blogposts from the students of the Information Architecture Master degree

-Un exemple de muséomixage “Muséomixage de la chapelle de Sainte Marie d’en haut” par Karine Marteau-Bazouni.

Museomix, une méthodologie collaborative, par Loup Cellard et Caroline Jouneau-Sion.


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