The "Museum Next" Experience

της Λήδας Καρανικολού

"We need museums that make us feel better ..."


I recently had the opportunity to attend Museum Next in London, one of the world’s leading museum conferences. Ι was representing the Museum of Cycladic Art in a group of 10 museum professionals during a trip that was organized by the British Council and funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. 

The first day of the Conference, the Art Fund National Art Pass gave us the opportunity to visit museums and exhibitions all over London,  such as  Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up at Victoria the Albert, Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern and many more.. Museum hopping on a sunny day that one can hardly forget...

The 2 next days included a number of inspiring speeches by top museum leaders from all over the world. Since it’ s rather difficult to convey the pulse and the passion of the speakers, I decided to capture key learnings that really struck me and could be food for thought for all museum professionals. 

The trend in museums worldwide goes as follows: We started from “audience growth and visitor’s experience”. We are moving on to the next level of “accepting diversity and inclusion”. Next step will be the “community engagement through co curation/co creation” while the future is “Ecosystem/change makers”. 

In this frame, what innovation means for museums; What are the OFBYFOR community museums; How can the culture of “YES” help museums address challenges of the future; Is technology necessary to face the upcoming social and financial crisis; Are un-artists and playful museums the future;



With this “moto”, Nina Simon, executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, presented the ways to transform  museums  at ofbyfor communities: 

museums cocreated by their communities. 
reflective their communities.
for their communities. 

Αccording to Nina, 90% of programs of their museum have been cocreated by local communities while their 2000 partners have multiplied the museum visitors to the utmost degree! 

The audience of our museums should reflect the diversity of our community. The same stands for our staff: We should reconsider the ways we are hiring people. Are we sure that our staff is representative of our society; 

"The world is changing. Museums are on the transitive team…" 


Walk it or bikes, it’s yours!

Nedra Deadwyler, founder of Civil Bikes in Atlanta, presented how she started the concept of bike tours for history lessons and art, in order to demonstrate local history of Atlanta. A good idea for the Mayor of Athens! 


Play Africa

Gretchen Wilson, the Founder and CEO of Play Africa- the  first children’s museum in the sub Saharan Africa- shared with us  the most inspiring story of what can be achieved when passion and hard work come together. 

The aim of her team was to offer every child an educational experience. As they couldn’t afford to rent a building and it was impossible to get subsidy from the state, the solution was to transfer their “museum” from one place to another until they found a permanent home at Nelson Mandelas’ prison!



A title that I really envied! 

Μyseum is a city museum of Toronto that works with diverse cultural organizations which own the collections of their communities and collaborates with artists and curators to present exhibitions throughout the city: Walking tours, boat tours, bike tours etc. 

With the moto Myseum collects! Myseum connects!, they presented  a model of a transferable museum of the city, a museum without walls, cocreating exhibitions with the public by collecting items and documentaries.


Redefining our Museum 

Would you say “yes” to create a video of David Beckam talking with kids in your museum  or to allow Beyonce and Jay-Z to shot their new video clip in the Louvre;

New strategies that span national, international and digital realms and big scale projects that enable museums to engage large diverse publics, is what museums need in the 21st century, according to the representative of the Natural History Museum.  The 3d illustrations of 10 species/exhibits is their recent achievement towards this direction.


Decolonising Display 

What happens when a museum tells the same story in the opposite way;

We all know that all exhibitions follow a narrative, predecided by curators.  The recent subversive exhibition The Past is Now  at the Birmingham Museum is a case study of how the same objects, under a new narrative perspective, can totally change an exhibition! 

The exhibition tells the stories behind eighty-three objects related to the British Empire reclaiming and subverting the colonial narrative that often predominates in Western museums. It sheds light on the painful process by which Western museums and other institutions must reckon with their own complicity in colonialism and other systemic power structures.

Needless to comment the amount of publicity the exhibition gained! 


Hack the Bureaucracy!

This speech was quite a surprise for any attendee from Greece and not only!  The two speakers claimed that rather than fighting the System, we can adopt methods that work with the grain of the slow bureaucracy, which can really bring progress and change! 


Perform or Perish 

What about trend driven innovation in the museums; 

Henry Mason, managing Director of Trendwatching, analyzed the new consumer trends that are impacting the museum sector:

• Facial Recognition 
• No pressure by ΝGOs and institutions. There are new kind of influencers 
• New human needs: self-improvement // culture education // holistic well being 
• Much time spent in new technologies 
• Virtual companions 

Stop being so fragile 

Innovation is about change the strategic environment and be able to adapt to the rapid changes of the social and political environment, according to Chris Michaels, Digital Director of National Gallery. 

Museums, as part of the creative industries, should redefine their identity in a data riven world and strive for their sustainability.  We are at the edge of two  financial crisis in 2024 and in 2030. Recession at the museums is to come.. We need flexible leaders and boards of Directors to achieve sustainability.  

Pessimistic approach but, perhaps, true.. 


The future of our History with Artificial Intelligence 

Talking about innovation we should of course refer to AI and games: 

Actions such as robotics, machine learning and 3d illustrations can change the visitors experience. The Natural History Museum of Utah  used a virtual game to bring people together around the climate change.  A recent fashion history exhibition, used virtual fitting rooms for the visitors where they could see themselves wearing the historical costumes! 


The Playful Museum of the Future

Megan Dickerson, Manager of Exhibition Development in the New Children’s Museum in San Diego, after years of experimentation, gave us an insight of the museum of the future.

She presented a model of museum which is simultaneously a contemporary art museum & a children museum.  What a contradiction, one could immediately say! “Contemporary art museum” equals to serious, quiet, conceptual, exhibits that you can’t touch, while “children’s museum” means noise, touching things, laughter etc. 

Each “exhibit” in the New Children’s Museum is a one-of-a kind installation artwork commissioned from a contemporary artist. Artists create new artworks for kids while people are watching the creation of the artworks.

Moving forward, should museums become hybrid;  Megan Dickerson claims that this “new model” of a playful museum could be the future of  museums, on one condition: Working with less known artists and not bigs names… The museums of the future, in order to include big communities, need artists with less art ego. They need un artists..   

Are we heading towards an era of un artists or un museums;


« "Play" equals being yourself... It means all the things that make you feel totally alive, losing track of time. Everybody has a different kind of play. Museums should accommodate all the different ways people like to "PLAY"»

Welcome to the Funhouse

“The most punk rock thing I ever did was become a museum director!”

This is how Scott Stulen, former artist and Dj and current Director of Phibrook Museum of Art, introduced himself at the conference! 

Claiming that museums should adopt the culture of “YES” instead of saying “NO”, he presented us how ideas such as low-rider picnics, garden camp-outs, burger nights, groups of knitting hats for homeless, have transformed their mid-size museum with limited resources. 

Museums should be transformative. We are tramped by fear, tradition and all those unspoken things about the museum world that we don’t want to challenge. There are key social facts we should take into consideration:

• Audiences are getting older and diverse
• Social impact drives giving
• We live in a divided society
• People will pay for things the value
• Education is an increasing need 
• More competition for people’s time 
• Health and wellness is the new trend 

In this framework, museums should be places that make us feel better! 

Working in the Museum of Cycladic Art, a mid size boutique museum in the heart of Athens, I can’t help but closing this presentation with Scott’s last phrase:


“Mid size museums are the future… 
If we do something cool we get all the attention and if we fail nobody is watching!”


Λήδα Καρανικολού,
Υπεύθυνη Γραφείου Τύπου, Μουσείο Κυκλαδικής Τέχνης

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