Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Photographer: Ricardo Martins

Last week I moderated a seminar which FUISM (The Swedish Association for Museum Educators) arranged in connection with the Spring Meeting, the annual meeting for the Swedish museum sector. The theme for the seminar was “Tomorrow´s audience – a challenge for the whole organization?” In the panel discussing the issue was Lars Amréus, director of The Museum of National Antiquities and chairman for the Association of Swedish Museums, Eric Åström, Swedish Arts Council, Maria Jansén, director, Östergötland County Museum and Eriqa Lindsten, Head of audience activities, Bohuslän County Museum. In today´s blog I am going to discuss an issue Maria Jansén addressed in her key note, The Museum without a manual.

An increasing number of present-day museums are open institutions where visitors are welcomed to take part in exhibition work and collecting activities. New media, mobile phones, Flickr and Facebook are tools for interactive methods using synchronic communicative and feedback possibilities to activate the visitor. This development is in line with the thoughts of the English sociologist Tony Bennet in his book ”The Birth of the Museum” where he discussed and clarified the museums´ role in the development of society and how new museums are formed from this function. Museums have become active meeting places, arenas for a dialogue on today´s and tomorrow´s topics.

This addresses new demands on how the exhibition communicates with the visitor. I see the exhibitions as a social meeting place – a media for meaning making. The exhibition offers a framework for meaning making processes through the way artifacts and ideas are shaped and presented. When signs, symbols, pictures and objects are put together to unities meaning is formed which builds on previous experiences and knowledge. The exhibition carries a pedagogical dimension as is, a dimension which has to communicate with the visitor without a guide explaining or interpreting. In the same way the Museum hold a pedagogical dimension where exhibitions, collections, archives and the Web must be accessible. A Museum without a Manual.

I mean that this pedagogical dimension to a high degree requires a pedagogical competence regarding the form, design and presentation of exhibitions and the museum. Sure, in the present-day museum everyone has a pedagogical mission, but this must not be mixed with pedagogical competence. The pedagogical competence is important when content is made accessible to the visitor. That is why I see the pedagogical competence as the single most important competence in the present-day museum which wants to reach and engage its visitors, the museums which want to make a difference. This “post-museum” builds on an understanding of the complex relationship between culture, identity, learning and communication, which is at the heart of tomorrow´s museum. A communication and pedagogy building on a Museum without a manual.