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2011, vol. 6, iss. 21, pp. 159-179
When the museum becomes the message for participating audiences
Estonian National Museum, Institute of Journalism and Communication, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
Keywords: audience participation; museums; theories of participation
This article aims to analyze the notion of participation in the museum context using an audience studies perspective. Museums are increasingly competing for the attention of the public in the arenas of leisure and education, the process of which is part of the commercialization of the museum institution. In addition, a turn towards interactivity is taking place in museums, and while that might serve well to revitalize the museum and bring it closer to its audiences, it does not sufficiently support realization of the change of the museum institution into a laboratory-type museum (de Varine, 1988; van Mensch, 2005) - a concept defined through the communicative and democratic aspects of the museum. As is the case with many public institutions, the democratization of society is increasing the need for transparency and accountability, which in turn has brought public engagement to the attention of the museum. According to Simon (2010), museums need to find a balance between the activities of the museum and audiences: the (potential) need to overcome the shyness of expertise combined with the need to organize the (potential) flood of amateurs. These different evolutions - the ambiguity of expertise, the move towards interactivity and the need for public engagement - increase the need to understand participation at museums. This paper discusses the ideas of what participation means in the museum context through Giddens' framework of democratizing democracy (1995) by looking at the museum through three key roles: as cultural, economic and public institutions, each of which has different reasons for and meanings of museum participation.
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article language: English
document type: unclassified
published in SCIndeks: 20/12/2011