New practices and spaces for museums: Conference summary

This article is a summary of a three day training event that took place online 7-9 December 2020. The conference was a part of the CREMA project, an Erasmus+ strategic partnership that aims at developing methods for makerspaces in museums. The event was organized by Radiona Zagreb makerspace and included participants from several different European countries. During the course of the event, partner organizations in the CREMA project led presentations and workshops on different topics. What follows are short summaries of these sessions. Individual articles on all the different topics will be available on the CREMA website in 2021.

Session: Audience Development

This topic was presented by the Italian consultancy firm BAM! Strategie Culturali, which has great experience in audience development within various cultural institutions.

BAM! shared their knowledge about this subject in two sessions the first day, one with the theoretical background and one with good examples from around the world. On day 2 they also led a workshop where the participants dealt with these questions but with examples from the participant museums.

What does audience development mean? As we are all working in a second language, it might not be clear: Much of the vocabulary is in English and translated in various ways to other languages. There are many ways of using the phrase, but a good and clear description of what the purpose is could be as follows: to make cultural content more accessible, understandable and less distant from its audience.

So how do we achieve this? When talking about audience development, the audience can be divided into three categories: The community, the network and the crowd. The organization and its regular audience belongs to the community, the network are people connected to the community in some way, and the crowd is ”everyone else”. While the community and the network are fairly easy to reach, the crowd is another matter entirely.

When working towards reaching new audiences, the work can be divided into Engagement and Outreach. Engagement is the activities we´re doing with those who already are familiar with what we do, the “already aware public”, and the outreach is when we work towards expanding our audience outside the community.

How hard it can be to involve and attract new audiences is shown by the Engagement vs Outreach process: Activate, Involve, Interact, Reach. The general rule is that to get one person activated, you must involve 10, interact with 100 and reach out to 1000.

In conclusion, we can see that reaching out for new audiences is quite challenging, and that it is a long journey from the non-audience to the central audience. It is necessary to keep working on this in order for a museum or similar institution to stay relevant; however, it must be done in a sensible way – trying to reach everyone regardless of how likely they are to be interested, is too demanding in terms of time and resources.

BAM also gave a lecture with various good examples and links to relevant projects, to emphasize the value of outreach and collaboration. As stated on the web site of San Francisco’s Exploratorium: Do you want to make it accessible? Make it collaborative!

Session: Makerspace and Museum Collaboration

This session was led by the “host” of the event, the Radiona makerspace in Zagreb, an institution with a vast experience in working with museums. In a humorous way, their presentation addressed the benefits and challenges of integrating maker culture and cultural heritage.

One huge challenge emphasized in this session was the perceived traditional role of museums that can clash with the more rebellious philosophy of the maker community. Museums and cultural heritage are still, even though cultural institutions work to alter that image, often associated with strict conventions – no touching, listen only to the experts, and such like. This is in stark contrast to the informal and hands-on approach of maker culture and makers are not necessarily museum audience. It is up to us in the museum industry to build bridges between cultural institutions and the maker community and to create an atmosphere where makers feel welcome.

To do this, the museums and cultural institutions must make room for visitor participation. One way to do this is to have spaces in the museums that are dedicated to making, with tools and other items that are supposed to be handled by visitors. Another way is to literally get out of the comfort zone – physically moving out of the institutions to seek out the participants in their own neighborhoods. Radiona showed us examples of when this approach has been successfully executed.

Radiona emphasized the benefits of using makerspaces in museums in regard to several of the topics that the CREMA project focuses on, such as intergenerational learning and entrepreneurship. Combining technology and interactivity – important aspects of the maker community – with cultural heritage is quite possible and, indeed, necessary. We mustn’t be scared to explore the unexpected and untraditional.

The session was concluded with a discussion among the conference participants on museums and makerspaces. Topics discussed thoroughly was on how representatives from the museum sector can communicate with the maker community, and how the maker community and the traditional museum audience can be successfully combined.

Session: Accessibility in Museums – MakeAbility

This session was led by The Hungarian Open Air Museum (Szentendrei Szabadtéri Néprajzi Múzeum), also known as Skanzen. The topic was accessibility and inclusion in general and in museums and maker spaces in particular. The essence of this session can be summarized in one word – MakeAbility, making ability for everyone.

When planning to use and/or create maker spaces in museums, one also have to face new issues concerning accessibility. Many museums have made progress in this field in the last decades, and have ramps, elevators, signs, lights, carefully chosen fonts and so on to make exhibitions accessible. When planning a creative space such as a maker space and the activities in it, as a way of reaching out to new groups, it´s very important that it is a friendly, accessible and welcoming environment for everyone. Skanzen presented a very detailed and useful guide on how to make a public space accessible and inclusive.

When approaching these issues we need to consider several aspects of our operations, not only the physical space. In their presentation about accessibility, Skanzen emphasized the following:

  • Personal interaction with participants/visitors in your space/museum
  • External communication (websites etc.)
  • Geographical location and physical accessibility
  • Disposition of indoor space
  • Light and sound
  • Furniture, tools and equipment
  • Safety, staff and training

In conclusion, the issue of accessibility is a rather diverse one. It is not just about making your space wheelchair accessible, but about being able to provide meaningful experiences for all, no matter one’s ability.

Session: Creative Industries, Entrepreneurship and Museums – Speed Conclusions

Museums and creative industries are the focus of Latvian-based independent think tank Creative Museum. They gave a presentation on these subjects and highlighted some of their relevant projects and activities as examples of how entrepreneurship and innovation can boost the cultural sector, and vice versa.

This year, faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, the question of online making and possibilities of digital makerspaces has become relevant for the CREMA project. To develop digital experiences (or, indeed, other cultural experiences), it is necessary to involve people with different skills and backgrounds, such as entrepreneurs, programmers, photographers, translators etc. These competences paired with the stories and material of the cultural sector can be a very fruitful combination.

During 2020, Creative Museum members have been involved in co-organizing two hackathons – one which focused on a VR experience for a museum in Riga, the other on developing an online booking system for cultural venues in Latvia. A hackathon is essentially an online makerspace, and from these projects came several learning outcomes and valuable experiences. Regarding digital making in general, Creative Museum emphasized the importance of not giving in, but keep trying until it works. It can be frustrating but that is part of the process.

The VR experience was developed for the Žanis Lipke Memorial in Riga and will be available for the Oculus platform. VR can be an effective way of making your museum or cultural venue accessible to people all around the world, something that several cultural institutions have already realized and benefited from.

There is something to be said for existing digital storytelling platforms, and there are several available today. One of them is iziTravel, which has been used to make the digital city tour “Underground Riga”, which marks places in Riga that sheltered persecuted Jews during the Holocaust. The users of the app can contribute themselves with places, stories and pictures – a collaborative digital product, in other words.

To summarize, the digital age offers possibilities to combine technology, entrepreneurship and cultural history for online collaborative making. The Covid-19 crisis have made these possibilities more relevant than ever.

Session: Intergenerational learning (IGL)

The session on intergenerational learning was split between three organizations: The Regional Museum of Skane, The Finnish Museum Association and finally Kalmar County Museum. The Regional Museum of Skane and the Finnish Museum Association are both partners in the CREMA project while Kalmar County Museum (a museum in southern Sweden) had been invited as guest speakers because of their extensive experience in the field.

The Regional Museum of Skane started off by giving a short introduction to the subject and its role in the CREMA project. After this, the Finnish Museum Association held an extensive presentation with examples on IGL from Finnish museums. Kalmar County Museum followed this by presenting their work on different intergenerational projects, and how they use time travels in learning. Finally, the Finnish Museum Association held a workshop focusing on challenges and possibilities in intergenerational learning.

Defining intergenerational learning can be a bit tricky, but generally speaking it is whenever a learning activity – often informal or non-formal – involves participants from different generations that shares and exchanges knowledge, skills and experiences. Since the CREMA project is about adult learning, we aimed to focus mainly on adult generations. However, a lot of the available examples on IGL include children and this was reflected in the presentations.

The Finnish Museum Association presented the Genrations in interaction project, which is an Erasmus+ project aiming at increasing competences in IGL and creating models than can be used in non-formal and informal learning institutions. This was followed by a presentation on several innovative ways IGL are explored and applied in Finnish museums. These examples had all resulted in valuable learning outcomes for the participants, due to their variations in experience and knowledge.

Linda Liljeberg from Kalmar County Museum was invited as a guest speaker because of her experience in working with IGL and the time travel method. Kalmar County Museum are the founders of Bridging Ages, an international network organization that aims to help learning organizations all over the world to use time travel and applied heritage in their education. The time travel method is, as the name implies, a method where the participants are “transported” to another era, using the local heritage for an immersive experience. It can be used to learn about a certain time era, but today it mainly functions as a tool to understand and reflect on the present and how what we do today affects the future.

The goal of the time travel method is not just to improve learning outcomes, but to contribute to social cohesion and community-building. The local history heritage is key, and the stories told are always connected to this. Lots of issues can be addressed in this way, such as democracy, gender roles, climate change, migration, and so on. The participants take on new roles, which can change the dynamic of the group if they are for example a class of school children or colleagues from the same workplace. This is effective in order to change perspectives and break up hierarchies.

The IGL session was concluded with a workshop where the conference participants discussed the meaning of IGL as well as the challenges and possibilities that comes with it. The general consensus was that there are plenty of challenges, but also lots of ways to tackle them. We live in a fast-changing world and exchanges across generations can hopefully contribute to a more sustainable society.


This summary was written by The Regional Museum of Skane, based on presentations and video recordings from the conference. For more information, visit www.cremaproject.eu or send an e-mail to project coordinator Malin Liedberg: malin.liedberg@regionmuseet.se

Article republished from www.cremaproject.eu 
Since October, 2019 Radiona – Zagreb Makerspace is part of the CREMA or CREative MAking for Lifelong Learning.
CREMA is 3 year ERASMUS+ project (2019 – 2022).