“Museums can make much more out of today’s technology”
Diane Drubay, artist and cultural entrepreneur, has a clear vision for the future: museums should get involved in social processes and become places where people can exchange ideas and reflect on the future in front of the mirror of the past. Museums can play a pioneering role by showing how human needs and technology can be reconciled, and so be a laboratory for human development.
In your scenarios for the future, you in talk about the “musée humain”, the museum as a place for people. Aren’t today’s museums already made for people?
Many visitors feel uncomfortable in museums and have the feeling they are in the wrong place. And no wonder, because the atmosphere is often sterile, making visitors behave unnaturally. They look around in reverence, almost like in church, and don’t ask questions, even though that would be the human reaction. In Brazil, visitors were given an IBM Watson computer programmed with artificial intelligence. They could ask it anything they wanted. And I found the evaluation of these questions very significant
“Museums often impose unnatural behaviour on visitors.”
What did the visitors want to know?
"Who is Picasso?" was an often-asked question, or: "How much did this painting cost?" and: "To whom did it belong?" Questions that should be obvious, but that many people in the museum don’t dare ask. I would therefore want museums to be more user-friendly; places you can visit like a bistro and where you can behave accordingly.
How do you make museums more user-friendly?
Change takes a long time. And these three things: first, a director with the vision of making the museum a more open place. It takes a leader who is not afraid to think globally and locally at the same time. Too often, directors and curators are still too attached to the idea of presenting their collections and objects in the best possible way, rather than putting their activities at the service of society.
And the other two requirements?
Second: directors and curators should look at their collections again from a different viewpoint. For every object, they should not only ask themselves what it meant in the time in which it was created, but also what it can tell us about our era. Objects should also be exhibited with this in mind: a strong reference to the present.
And third: museums should talk to local people, to the city's inhabitants, to their neighbours. Museums should be part of the local ecosystem. And they will only be that if they are in contact with their environment, if they take up ideas from outside and implement them in collaboration with their environment. Museums should become meeting places for the participants of our society. Places to exchange ideas and think about the future.
Are there already museums that correspond to your vision?
Yes, there are a few I like very much: the Mima – Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art in the UK, for example. This is a museum that tries to connect people and appeal to their senses. Or the Dutch Museum no hero. The focus here is on experience with art, not on the paintings themselves. Then there are a whole series of museums that already do justice to my vision in individual aspects.
“With today's technology, museums could respond much more individually to each visitor.”
The entrance to Paris’ Centre Pompidou is a magnet and an invitation to hang out. But even there: as soon as you have crossed into the exhibition area, the individual becomes a visitor who, from then on, has a course to complete. But with today's technology, museums could respond much more individually to each visitor and offer customised exhibitions.
Could you explain that?
When museums collect and exchange data, it is possible to create exhibitions that are better tailored to people's needs. In the virtual sphere, it is even conceivable that exhibitions could adapt completely to individuals and what they want. Thus the museum – or whatever we want to call it in that case – can accompany people, pick up on their emotions at certain locations and respond to them. It will be a while before we're ready, but museums can play a pioneering role here and show how human needs and technology can be reconciled. In this way, the museum can be a laboratory for human development.
By focusing on the relationships that it can establish with visitors, the museum becomes a player in the development of societies – governance, values, ethics, individuals – through the emotional, experimental, sensory and cognitive evolution of visitors and all humanity, establishing itself as an observatory of change. The museum should be relevant for everyone and benefit society as a whole. Museums should be alive and play an active role.
“In times where ‘fake news’ is used to make politics, there needs to be a balance.”
You think that museums should involve themselves in social processes?
Yes, especially when it comes to approaching the truth within a social discourse. Of course truth is a big word. But in times where ‘fake news’ is used to make politics, there needs to be a balance. Museums enjoy a high level of credibility, they have a lot of knowledge and objects to show people how something happened and what the consequences were. They should take advantage of that. Museums are not an end in themselves, they are part of society.
So: museums as keepers of the truth?
Yes, a museum is not just neutral. Museums should be a trustworthy place, not just for people, but also for information. The museum as a refuge. I would like museums to become places where prejudices are dismantled and that also represent a reality: our societies have long been multicultural, especially in the West. The "musée voisin", the neighbouring museum, is a reflection of local communities – when neighbourhoods are populated by different cultures and cities become intercultural, the museum should be permeable to these differences and to what in fact becomes a unique multiple identity. These cultures can meet and mix in the museums. This can also lead to new things.
About Diane Drubay
Diane Drubay is a specialist for digital museum strategies. At the Reframe! The Future Begins in Museums incentive event hosted by Engagement Migros on 26 April 2018, she outlined future models of museums as network nodes of collective intelligence and drivers of social change.
In 2007 she set up Buzzeum, a internationally renowned agency for new media and communication. In 2011 she was the co-founder of Museomix, a hackathon for museums. In 2013 she founded We Are Museums, an annual European event at the intersection of culture and innovation. Since 2014 she has curated the programme of the international conference Museum Connections in Paris. She teaches at Sciences Po and EAC Paris, and regularly gives lectures at international conferences to share her vision of the future of museums.