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Museums of the future?

By Jon Bounds on Aug 27, 08 11:33 AM in Culture

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery used to have a local history room, there were old police uniforms and a button you could press to hear a snatch of "I can't find old Brummagem". That and the papier-mâché T-Rex is pretty much all I can remember of the museum from my childhood, which is odd because we went there a lot -- it was a cheap day out.

Since then the local history responsibility has been covered a bit by Thinktank, a bit by more local museums such as Soho House -- but that's about to change with a £300,000 grant which BMAG will use to create a new gallery showing the history of Brum from "medieval times to the present day".

A great opportunity. The museum has a wealth of artefacts that would suit this -- many at its collections centre that gets popular but infrequent open days -- and there are some pieces at Thinktank that could do with bringing back into context a little. There are also pieces such as the Baskerville collection at Central Library that it would be great to see in a proper setting.

I've been collecting ideas of what else the museum should have: some have been serious "A retrospective of the old adverts that encouraged families to move from Birmingham into the new towns.", some not so -- but interesting all the same -- "Camp Hill Flyover".

My best times at the old local history museum were when my old granddad would tell me more about (giving the human side) some of the things there. It's a fine line that has to be trod between the kind of interactive, but child-focussed, exhibits seen at Thinktank - and the dry exhibition of artifacts. A local museum has a perfect opportunity to create an experience that not only engages people, but draws on the experience of its potential visitors about the subject.

What price a sort of "wiki-museum" where the public could pop in and add/correct information and even drop off stuff that that they think contributes to the story?

This sort of project has potential forerunners in collections of folk memories like the BBC's great WW2 People's War project and even Dr Chinn's Birmingham Lives, but they're not places to go with real things to see.

Could we work out some way that people could add their knowledge to the displays? Can people add video of themselves talking about what they see in the museum without heavy moderation or editing? Can we prompt visitors to share to improve the experience for everybody? A "real life wiki" -- could it be done?

If not we can always start work on the paper dinosaurs again.

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