Lori Byrd Phillips. Curator: The Museum Journal, 56:2, pp. 219-235, April 2013.
I’m excited to share that my graduate thesis on Open Authority has now been published in Curator. If you’re interested in reading more, get in touch.
Museums today grapple with the reconciliation of traditional models of authority with the expectation to incorporate new voices in cultural interpretation. At the same time, society is increasingly empowered by a social web that provides collaboration, connectivity, and openness. This paper frames the dialogue of authority and openness around parallel theories within the museum and technology communities, offering Wikipedia as a platform for facilitating new perspectives in collaborative knowledge-sharing between museums and communities. Expanding on the metaphors of the museum as “the Temple and the Forum” and the web as “the Cathedral and the Bazaar,” this essay argues that issues of democratization, voice, and authority in museums can be addressed through Wikipedia’s community, process, and its potential as a model for a new Open Authority in museums.
Museums as institutions are not built to listen, and only by listening will we grow in connectivity and community…Radio can transform how we listen and learn what our collections and work mean to our community, changing how the museum engages with, and is inspired by, volunteers and activists of all kinds.
The movement toward open content reflects a growing shift in the way scholars in many parts of the world are conceptualizing education to a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed. Information is everywhere; the challenge is to make effective use of it. Open content uses Creative Commons and other forms of alternative licensing to encourage not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of pedagogies and experiences as well.
The Horizon Report: Museum Edition examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on education and interpretation within museums.
Open Content was included as one of the six technologies featured in the 2012 Horizon Report and was predicted to have a two-to-three year adoption horizon until it is likely to enter mainstream use.
Open Content was alongside Augmented Reality as a two-to-three year adoption horizon. Social Media and Mobile Apps were included with adoption horizons of one year or less. The Internet of Things and Natural User Interfaces were determined to have far-term horizons of four-to-five years.
This is not an exhibition. Oh Snap! is a collaborative photography project that lets you share your work in our gallery. Starting February 21, 2013, Carnegie Museum of Art’s Forum Gallery will feature 13 works recently added to our photography collection meant to spark a creative response. We hope one (or more!) will inspire you to take pictures and share them.
Being increasingly of the web, especially the social web, is one of our major goals at the Getty…We have over 20 social media spaces, with eight launched in 2012 alone. So why more? Because Getty Voices sets out to do something more: to define a new voice for the Getty in the digital world, as a collective conversation between you and all of us—educators and gardeners, conservators and librarians, curators and security officers, scientists and designers. So much of what we do happens behind the scenes, and this new project aims to use the power of the web to make the whole Getty more accessible and more participatory than ever before.
I love how this description of the new Getty Voices perfectly illustrates what I mean when I define “open authority” — the coming together of traditional notions of expertise with the passionate interests of the community, all on a level playing field.
…But museums will have to change to take advantage of the turmoil roiling our colleagues in education. We’ll need to be open and available. We need to let our collections be used by others for their ends. That means sharing online collections and images as open data, being open to collaborations, letting go.
It means that we need to break down the walls that separate curatorial expertise and educational expertise within the museum. Curators and curatorial knowledge will have to be open to the public. The one rule of the web is disintermediation: no more gatekeepers. Curators will need to be open directly to their audiences. Museum educators will need to know collections and content. Those jobs will merge as the museum opens up…
So how do we push the power balance further in the visitors’ favor without totally abrogating our responsibility to be accurate, honest, and authoritative? How could we inhibit the exhibition?
Ed Rodley has gone and done it again. His latest blog post, “Natural’s Not In It” has given me a revelation in how to bridge two disparate thoughts I’ve had for awhile now—Open Authority and critical pedagogy.
About a year ago I had an “intellectual ah-ha moment” in which I realized that, “my opinions about social engagement in museums really do boil down to my views on education: just as the classroom should be shaped around student interests, the museum experience should be shaped by visitor interests.”
You can read the above post to see just how passionate I am about the Reggio-Emilia teaching model. Reggio is a progressive constructivist approach to pre-primary education that is dependent on learning being led by the interest of the child. Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” also deeply impacted my thoughts on the balance of power between teacher and student, and caused me to internalize the connection between didactic teaching methods and oppression. (It causes one to pause over the use of omniscient and authoritative voice in exhibit labels…) I feel strongly that non-hierarchical models, where the teacher-student remains equal in learning, should be integrated into the interpretation of cultural heritage in museums.
Ed’s post articulates this concept in a new way that is really helping me make the leap from critical pedagogy to open authority. He attempts to re-frame the convoluted exhibition-development process by looking at the term “inhibition,” which would presumably be the opposite of “exhibition.” I was confused by how “inhibiting” anything could be seen as positive, but things quickly became clear when the factor of “power” entered the picture (read: “authority,” if we’re overgeneralizing.)
Ultimately, the conclusion is that…
[exhibit developers should] be more explicit in inhibiting the dominating power of the exhibition so that visitors have more personal agency and power within the space.
Ed has effectively turned my frame of reference for Open Authority on its head. I have always looked at Open Authority as a means of increasing the visitors’ power in order to have an equal voice in the interpretation within an exhibit. But I like Ed’s notion that authority within an exhibit is a zero-sum game, and raising everyone’s power level is implausible. Instead, Ed is positing that we take it down a notch.
Putting my two-year-old-teacher hat on (from bygone years), I look at this in a Reggio-esque way. An exhibit developer inhibiting their power within an exhibition is similar to how, as a 2’s teacher, I would stoop down to the level of my students so that I was not towering over them authoritatively. Instead, I was eye-to-eye with them, and speaking with them not in a sing-song-y, condescending tone, but in a normal cadence like I would with any other adult. Open Authority is not putting the child on stilts to increase their power, it’s stooping to their height so that we’re all on a level playing field.
This brings me back to Freire’s critical pedagogy, and the important point that dialogue with the oppressed [didactically instructed children/visitors] is essential to humanizing [empowering] them. For the museum professional, entering into this dialogue requires inhibiting our current power structures, and only then will we get closer to an Open Authority.
I’ll close on an interesting tidbit. The 40 pages of my thesis on Open Authority do not include Freire, in spite of his work greatly impacting my thinking on democratization in museums. I did, however, craft a paragraph linking the two thoughts in my earlier drafts (it just ended up on the editing room floor.) So here’s my first stab (written a year ago) at summarizing how critical pedagogy connects with Open Authority, even conveniently ending on a note of “empowerment”…
Philosopher Paolo Freire first framed the issues of authoritative voice by defining the re-humanization of the “oppressed” as the empowerment of the under-served through community dialogue and critical thinking (2000). While his revolutionary work targets the educational system, many correlations can be drawn to the museum field and the singular representations of peoples in exhibit narratives. At its very basic, Freire’s perspective reminds us to respect the learner and to not speak for them, but to let them learn for themselves while providing guidance along the way. Museums will do well to more fully implement this deeper form of constructivist learning, and in so doing become true forums for community dialogue. The purpose of the forum is to allow others to have a voice, and provides a means for reflection and critical dialogue, which Freire considers to be imperative to empowered learning (2000).
So thanks, Ed! I feel lucky to have colleagues who continue to challenge my thinking and help me to make sense of the fine, idea-connecting threads that get stronger as we weave together our (seemingly) disparate thoughts.
Andrew Lewis of the Victoria & Albert Museum blogs about the themes of Museum Computer Network 2012, including Open Authority…
Open sharing becomes the norm
A strongly recurring theme was the normalisation of openness. Open standards and open source were deeply embedded in the ethos of many presentations, but also that of the collective museum professional community. It was heartening to find the ethos of making ideas, data and code freely available for others to build on becoming pervasive.
In her speech at the opening Ignite event at the EMP Museum, US Cultural Partnerships Coordinator for Wikimedia Foundation Lori Byrd Phillips discussed the tensions in museum knowledge authority between tightly-controlled models and open communal models. She cited a 1971 Duncan Cameron article, ‘The Museum: A Temple or the Forum.’ and how closely it compared that with a metaphor from a 1997 piece by Eric Raymond: ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ discussing the trend in coding from proprietory software to open-source coding. Lori was offering a model of open authority, acknowledging the need for authority, but suggesting it is better reached by open communal working.
TEDxIndy: “Indianapolis as a Science Museum: Urban Infrastructure for Science Learning,” Tim Carter
What would happen if we didn’t have any walls for our museums? If we took the learning from museums outside of those walls, what would happen?
We need to challenge the paradigm that the environment is not the city, that it’s somewhere else.
What if we look to the artistic community to do the interpretation for scientists. Scientists provide content; artists provide the interpretation and the teaching. That collaboration can be a powerful one.
We can now build this idea of an informal science learning environment, that doesn’t have any walls, that takes place in a city, and is curated by artists, informed by science.
I attended TEDxIndy last month, which had a theme of Design in Learning, and was really inspired by this talk. I see this as a future-future form of Open Authority, where the “temple” (authority) that was once the museum is reconfigured within an urban environment. I also see this as a new form of “openness,” as well. Rather than curators, in the traditional sense, opening up their interpretation to the general public, it is scientist curators opening up their interpretation to artists, drawing on their strengths to bring new relevance to topics. I think this may be happening in small ways around the US (and world), but this might be the first time that a more formed idea has been put out there. There’s so much potential here and I look forward to seeing how Tim’s idea develops!