Biophilia – Björk

Björk’s app album Biophilia is pretty well the coolest thing I’ve come across in ages. I downloaded the app this afternoon, and promptly lost myself exploring music and music-making, games and visuals. Have a listen to David Attenborough’s introduction to the app/album below:

This is everything that an app should be. It just spills over with creativity, and invites participation and creativity from its users in kind. Through experiments with science, and essays enclosed within, the app promotes learning too. Mind you, if this is the start of a new wave of creativity in apps then museums and other institutions who pride themselves on making knowledge and education accessible could be left fighting for relevancy. Or maybe we should just be looking for awesome and creative new partnerships to explore.

Museums in Melbourne and Newcastle, and the cultural making of community

During the last week, I’ve been visiting family in Melbourne, which provided a great excuse to go and check out the Melbourne Museum. Although I’d been to Melbourne before, I’d never had the chance to visit the museum, and so I seized upon the chance to lunch with Tim Hart and get a tour of the building and the current exhibitions with him.

It was great. Getting ‘backstage’ at different institutions is still thrilling to me, and it was super-exciting to get insight into the cool work that happens at the Melbourne Museum. There were some simple architectural features – like walls of a certain colour which indicate that collection items are stored within – that ensured the building was not only attractive, it was also functional (I love good planning).

The museum displays concentrate on both local (Melbourne and Victorian) stories, as well as more universal stories, and I really enjoyed the diversity of exhibits. Unfortunately due to a minor family emergency, I had to cut my visit slightly shorter than intended, but I can not wait to get back to Melbourne to explore the museum again. And that’s always a great sign of success for a museum… that a visitor not only enjoyed their time there, but actively wants to get back and spend more time.

In the mean time, good news for my own art gallery hit the local papers last week as well, when the Federal Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, announced that the Federal Government will contribute $7 million to the redevelopment of Newcastle Art Gallery. This has been a long-planned for redevelopment, and federal support will no doubt bring the redevelopment forward significantly (I think stage one should start really quickly). Phase one will include increased gallery exhibition spaces and storage, as well as a cafe and retail outlet. It’s very exciting news, particularly given the new life that has been given to the Newcastle Museum by its recent overhaul.

It’s a really interesting time for culture in Newcastle right now. Just over ten years ago, the BHP Steelworks in Newcastle closed down, which really impacted our city. Until then, Newcastle had primarily envisioned itself as an industrial town, and after that time, there was a real sense of depression around the region. However, in the years since, the city has slowly been remaking itself, and interesting initiatives like Renew Newcastle and festivals like TINA (This Is Not Art) have played a part in creating a very strong grassroots cultural industry. It’s credited with being one of the reasons that my hometown was named (maybe surprisingly) as one of Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Cities for 2010.

With this kind of government investment in the redevelopment of major cultural institutions such as the museum and the art gallery however, it seems that there is growing recognition in the role of arts and cultural organisations in the rebuilding of our city.

Cracking the social media network

I just noticed that Mashable has declared 30 June as Social Media Day, and asked people to write in and contribute their stories of how social media has changed their life. Their request is a timely one for me, as I had started drafting this post on the same issue a couple of days ago.

Since MW2011 my use of social media has changed a lot. Prior to the conference, my interactions on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter had primarily been personal. Although I had some sense that there were online conversations happening in museum tech, I really didn’t know how to crack into the networks (this is something that Perian Sully talked wrote an excellent post about a few of months ago). I wasn’t sure what contribution of value I could make to the field, nor how to just start participating in a conversation that I hadn’t been invited into. In some ways, it felt like eavesdropping on a conversation at a party, and trying to interject… almost rude, and possibly unwelcome.

But at the conference I started to tap into the Twitter channels, and from there I started to feel a bit more confident entering into conversations in the blogosphere and so on. It turns out that it wasn’t so scary starting to join the conversation (even writing my own blog!)… most people are welcoming (even if they are still unlikely to interact closely with too many more than Dunbar’s number) and are often happy to interact. And thanks to overcoming those fears of joining in, I have now really started to tap into some great online networks – networks filled with great ideas and opportunities.

As a result of these new networks, I now read piles of interesting articles that I probably wouldn’t otherwise come across; I’m hoping to attending events like THATCamp Canberra and MCN2011; I’ve been participating in great cross-blog conversations (and here); and I’ve been meeting excellent new people – and even Skyping with museum techs across the other side of the planet. And I don’t doubt that in a couple of years time when I finish the PhD, and am looking for work, it is through these online networks that I will likely find it. It’s clear that in only a few months, social media has started to change my career landscape and helped me connect with like-minded souls from all over the world.

Despite this, I know a lot of people who work in museums – and other industries – who remain disconnected from the online social networks in their fields. For some, it is because they simply aren’t online, or aren’t looking for networks in the right places. For others, it is that they haven’t realised how beneficial such networks can be. And of course, there are people like me who know that the networks exist, but are uncertain how to tap into the opportunities or join the conversations.

But if you can locate those networks, they are definitely worth joining (you could start by commenting on my blog if you want). You might just find someone who’s passionate about the same things you are. And then another. And another…

In the meantime, if you are just starting out in museum tech or digital heritage and want to find out a bit more about the online community, Sheila Brennan’s Getting to know DH if you work in cultural heritage is a great starting place.