These are hot words in museums today—how can museums engage visitors? How to share both knowledge and experience via participation? These words suggest exuberant sharing, anticipation of cumulative strength, and perhaps naive fearlessness. Yet, correct design of the collaboration is vital for success.
Nina Simon, a museum visionary and independent museum consultant, asks in her book, The Participatory Museum, “How can cultural institutions use participatory techniques …to develop experiences that are more valuable and compelling for everyone? This is not a question of intention or desire; it’s a question of design.”
Nina’s book itself is participatory: you can read it on-line and comment. http://www.participatorymuseum.org/read/
She includes examples of well-designed participatory projects that succeeded at museums and are described for others to share and replicate.
My favorite well-designed participatory project is “Drawing Club,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, at which collaborative drawings are being created by artists and members of the community during weekly open-ended drawing sessions summer 2010.
“Drawing Club,” is an astonishingly simple idea. The Walker provides art materials (paper, crayons, pencils, charcoal, etc., and collage materials), tables, and staff members for support (and gentle supervision if needed). Anyone can attend at no charge and work on as many pieces of art as he or she wants. And, here’s the slogan, “What happens at Drawing Club, stays at Drawing Club.” So all the drawings stay at the Walker.
A Drawing Club participant from Austin, TX,
working on a drawing started by another participant.
Every drawing is available for any participant to work on during Drawing Club. As soon as the mood strikes the artist, the drawing goes back in the pile, and any other participant can work on it. The Walker Art Center is collecting an ongoing list of the participants and at the end of the Drawing Club project, the Walker will mount an exhibit of an assortment of the drawings and post a list of the participants.
For me as an artist, and with the other artists I have spoken with, “Drawing Club” is refreshingly liberating. It is remarkably relaxing with no expectations to start or finish a drawing. Not having a plan is fine! What a refreshing splash of freedom for participants at Drawing Club. Doodling is fine. I feel like a six-year old again – and that is exhilarating. It absolutely clears the artistic “palate” so to speak. And, having the materials provided to the drawing participants is a decadent luxury for artists—professional or amateur. Bravo Walker! Drawing Club is great fun!
Announcements of activities at
Open Field at the Walker Art Center,
and info on how to schedule your
own event for the venue.
Photos © Jane M. Mason