Top 5 Takeaways from MuseWeb 2019 Boston

Wided Khadraoui

Art Processors’ had the opportunity to present at The MW (MuseWeb) 2019 conference in Boston last week. The Conference is a chance for museum workers, technologists, students, and researchers to share the latest applications of digital practice for the sector.

Across the conference’s program of workshops, sessions, and panels several key trends emerged,  including more encompassing approaches to incorporating digital practices into the overall visitor experience,  genuine inclusion, accessibility, community engagement, user generated content, immersive technology, curatorial practice,  and the ethics of data.

In this Art Processors round up we look at the top five takeaways from MW 2019 and how they can help elevate discussions around using technology to create deeper and more meaningful engagement with visitors.

1. It’s all about the stories. Museums are trying to manage  a myriad of digital solutions but shouldn’t overlook that it is all about the stories. The narrative should remain paramount and core to creating experiences and showcasing narratives. The sector has to cooperate across industry to preserve humanity’s stories in creative, tangible, and engaging ways.

The opening plenary from Hiroshi Ishii — “Remembering the Future, Archiving for 2200” — was filled with examples of the importance of framing and archiving the process of storytelling.  Ishii’s talk was about finding ways to convey the story behind works, in order to create more tangible experiences for guests. He stressed the need for museums, as a sector, to find ways to engage and enhance the audiences’ views. If we really want to think about the future we have to think about how to keep the things we produce today.

Photo Credit: Kit Matthew via Twitter
Photo Credit: Kathleen McSweeney via Twitter

2. There is a stronger interest than ever in inclusivity and diversity in the sector. Institutions are looking at wider considerations that take into account race, culture, language, and abilities when dealing with programming, outreach, and curatorial processes.  But it’s at an early stage; more an understanding that there is an issue rather than a real driver of policies and decisions from the top down, which leads us to the third point.

3. Concrete steps. Multiple speakers and sessions throughout the conference emphasized the ‘how-to’ process. There was wide interest in moving beyond theory into exploring concrete steps: how to implement new tech systems, how to implement cultural change within their institution, how to implement new ways of community engagement.  There are opportunities for the museum sector to partner with a variety of organizations, platforms, and individuals to work for genuine inclusion.

Photo Credit : Max Evjen via Twitter

A slide from a lighting talk from Mia Loving from The Peale and The Invisible Majority in Baltimore provided concrete steps institutions can take to support more genuine inclusion in the sector. Her talk highlighted the overlap between diversity and institutional relevancy and specific steps on how those issues can be tackled.

4. Data. Everyone loves data. Data and metrics are crucial to an organization’s success, but a key theme that emerged at the conference was the broader idea of the ethics of metrics. The industry is moving away from discussing just the practical consideration of technology to also considering its ethical implications.

5. Focusing on risk. One of the most oft-repeated terms throughout the conference was ‘risk’. The sentiment at the conference was that the sector remains risk averse.  Koven J. Smith’s summary of tweets on institutional risk-aversion and consequences outlined the reality that museums still lack the supportive mechanisms for risky and innovative approaches.  Fundamentally, risk is all about institutions trusting their staff in a given process so innovation is allowed and supported.

Thanks to MW19 co-chairs, Nancy Proctor and Rich Cherry, and their support staff who did a great job of organizing the conference, as well as the presenters and the overall community for a really engaging and insightful event.