A Museum Genome Project?

Superquick post. I just noticed that Jasper Visser has written about the blurring of boundaries between things; between art fairs and libraries, between shops, restaurants and galleries. The delineations between institutions or organisations once seemingly quite distinct are becoming less so. Or, as Jasper puts it, “The label becomes less important.”

As much as we’ve relied on art or museum classifications to tell us about the things in our collections, as institutions we also rely on classifications to tell us about ourselves and each other. Are we an art museum, or a small museum, or a zoo with only the lesser pandas? Are we a museum, or a library, or a librarymuseum? What relationship does a shop located in an airport that sells goods from the Met have to a museum?

Maybe museums, too, need a classification system more attenuated to nuance, like The Art Genome Project. Could we have a Museum Genome Project; in which all our institutions were assessed according to different characteristics or “genes” so that we could better understand how they relate to one another, and to other like institutions (imagine including the whole GLAM sector)? Genes could be created for factors including size, collecting or non-collecting, live animals or not, and so on. The relationships between a museum with books and a library with objects could probably be far more clearly demonstrated than simply with the labels “museum” or “library”. Taking such an approach to the labelling of museums (rather than just their objects) could provide an interesting and highly descriptive imprint of the sector, and the relationships different institutions have with each other. That knowledge could then be used to develop appropriate standards and best practices; or to correctly advocating for the needs of the sector.

What do you think? Do you think a Museum Genome Project would be a useful way to understand the sector, and the complex ways in which different institutions relate to, or differ from, one another? Could this be a useful approach for tackling sector-wide problems, like advocacy, or developing appropriate standards and best practices? And what would the essential genes include?

P.S. – In case you didn’t notice, my imagination has been captured by The Art Genome Project. Fortunately Matthew Israel is going to be at MCN2012, and I am very much looking forward to picking his brain there.

How could anyone think this little guy was less then a Panda?

2 thoughts on “A Museum Genome Project?

  1. I very much like this idea. It’s about time for refreshing new models that help us categorise emergent and existing cultural institutions in ways that are nuanced and agile. I wonder if there are any ways to combine thinking about ‘genetic profiling’ about these institutions with thinking about a ‘value ecosystem’ to assess the impacts of culture? http://thelearningplanet.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/making-the-case-for-heritage-learning/

    1. Bridget, it is interesting to see your discussion about measuring value, because it really does seem to be one of the biggest conversations I’m in right now is how do we do it effectively and in a way that’s meaningful for funders and correct/useful governance.

      On the Twitters, one person asked why we would need a new way of classifying institutions, when it would be better to have more ways of activating projects (or similar – I’m not hooked up right now to grab the exact Tweet). And maybe he was right. Maybe reassessing the way we measuring the relationships between museums wouldn’t be a particularly useful use of resources… Except that classifications are political, and much like getting what you measure, you also make assumptions about a sector based on the way you represent it, so…

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