Shared authority in the pop-up museum

Museums love their buzzwords. They tell us to explore, create, tell, and engage. This week, we explored one of the most interesting, if not most problematic, terms: sharing. Tyler and Arielle have already done a wonderful job of pointing out the limits inherent to the concept of shared authority–and by extension social engagement. I myself couldn’t help but initially question the title of Letting Go. In what contexts do contemporary museums claim authority? Who trusted them with such a position? And, can it be negotiated (i.e. revoked, renewed, reformed)? That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I believe that collaborative design and curation are means for the modern museum to reinvent themselves, and, in most cases, stay afloat. So, I wanted to extend the conversation and talk a little more about a phenomenon which I think fully embodies the principles of shared authority. Pop-up museums are temporary, often small museums/exhibits that can show up just about anytime and anywhere. Museum trucks have even put the concept on the streets. While there may be a larger sponsor/organization behind the pop-museum, shared authority is its lifeblood. The exhibit relies entirely on those who host and visit it. Are they an audience or are they participants? I have yet to figure that out. But regardless, they curate and interpret the space together, and the conversations they have in that process are very much a part of the pop-museum experience and study. In August 2011, the blog (appropriately title The Pop-Up Museum) published a quick guide to putting an installation together:

1) Choose a theme

2) Invite people to bring an object that is meaningful to them, based on the theme

3) Invite them to write a label describing why their object is meaningful, or a story they want to tell about their object

4) At the pop-up, people mingle with others, view objects, have conversations
It’s simple yet effective. In May 2010, the Museum of National History installed a National Vending Machine in which customers become curators as they built a “community of objects…[contributing] to the exposition by telling their story about the object they bought or by suggesting new objects.” The SF Mobile Museum took the concept to the streets parking “ in store fronts, parks and social spaces” creating spaces of “high participation, locally grown creations, to randomly curated concept-driven exhibits.” The Jenks Museum even hosted their own pop-up exhibit at last year’s NCPH conference. The debate regarding shared authority is far from over as our sociocultural landscape continues to shift. How much will museums be willing to let go? Wow much is truly feasible? At least the very least, pop-up museums can provide a manageable, creative stage in which these questions can be asked. 

One response to “Shared authority in the pop-up museum”

  1. Jonathan Cortez says:

    Hey Andrea,

    This is a great and relevant post for me as I have been thinking about small/ rural museums. Recently I have been seriously writing about and talking through a sort of “archive drive” that could help these smaller museums in multiple ways. First, it can get the town/ city/ community involved. Second,depending on the archives donated, it can help fill in parts of history for these regions that have been missing archival support. Which can ultimately influence larger projects. Third, it can revitalize the museums’ showrooms with newer materials that may attract more audiences. I will definitely take into account Pop-Up museums and the borrow from their framework of dialogic history-making.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *