American Association of Museums Trend Watch 2012

The American Association of Museums recently published a report titled Trends Watch 2012, Museums and the Pulse of the Future. According to AAM, the field of museology could beat to the rhythm of seven emergent practices in upcoming years. Namely, these are crowdsourcing, alternative social enterprises, public engagement, microgiving or crowdfunding, changing demographics, augmented reality, and new educational opportunities.  Of these trends, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and augmented reality will be explored in detail as technology fuels their very existence while the arts nourish their popularity. Crowdsourcing

Museums of 2012 should not shy from “harnessing the crowd”, especially when that crowd is more than willing to engage in unique tasks and activities. The report cites examples such as the Smithsonian Museum, which asked the public to vote on “which examples of video games to include in its “Art of Video Games” exhibit. As the PSFK reports, even the New York Public Library sought help from the public in its effort to overlay historical maps “onto the open, modern-day map, drawing from the library’s expansive map database that includes everything from maps of building types for fire insurance purposes to agricultural maps of droughts.” The report mentions Wikipedians in Residence, Digitalkoot project, and the Children of Lodz Ghetto Project as other examples of engaging the online world in content publishing and editing, archiving (through gaming!), and even historical research.

For museums, crowdsourcing is a novel way to increase volunteering while capturing the interest of experts and community members alike. Yet, not all tasks lend themselves well to the phenomenon; the crowd is best utilized when tasks are fun, meaningful, or interesting, and require large amounts of individual input. Additionally, while crowdsourcing speeds up the pace and broadens the scope of projects, “it also increases the burden of oversight and quality control.”


When it comes to funding for the arts, not everybody (including the government) is willing to give a lot. But when a lot of people give a little, what emerges is the financially fantastic, win-win idea of crowdfunding. The report suggests that Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Peerbackers can be used “to reach people who may never have heard of your museum and invite them to support projects ranging from acquisitions to exhibits to building expansions.”

The report also points to the possibilities of mobile giving with the introduction of Google Wallet and Card Case. Another fundraising initiative noted is Philanthroper, a start-up that helps raise funds for non profits via “an e-mail each day featuring a 501(c)(3) organization that subscribers can choose to support with donations of up to $10.”

For a successful crowdfunding initiative, an organization needs to think beyond the incentive of tax deductible donations. The most successful Kickstarter campaigns involve people in their creation send them tokens of appreciation (often the end products themselves). Thus personalized, fun, and unconventional incentives are key to appeasing to the masses.

Augmented Reality    

Reality limits the possibilities of what is, could be, and was. So augmented reality, in all its limitlessness, was introduced to help us imagine beyond what is. According to the report, “AR refers to a set of technologies that can layer digital elements—sound, video, graphics, even touch sensations—over real world experiences via mobile devices.”

One of the examples noted in the report is Streetmuseum Londinium, an app developed by the Museum of London which lets visitors explore Roman London and “ provides soundscapes to accompany scenes of Roman life superimposed on the modern city and encourages users to brush away dirt by blowing into their iPhones, “excavating” virtual artifacts in the process.” Another example of AR, not noted in the report, but cool nonetheless was used by the Science Museum in London. For its exhibit, Making of the Modern World, the museum created an app using a 3D avatar of Top Gear host, James May, who explained the significance of the objects in the exhibition.

Augmented reality certainly opens up possibilities but as the report notes, there is a fine line between engaging visitors and overwhelming or confusing them.  It also suggests that AR can be used to exhibit and exist beyond the walls of the museum. Layar, an app by The Andy Warhol Museum that lets “users to explore Pittsburgh and New York City through the eyes of Andy Warhol”, is one such boundary defying example.

Additional details and insight into all the other emergent practices can be viewed in the AAM report. While these trends may not necessarily define the future of museums, they certainly put them on the path to a new technological era. Museums, who says you can’t be both conservative and trendy?