Making the museums about us – The DREAM toolkit

21/03/2022 12:00 am

What do you feel when you are in a museum? Is it curiosity, awe or simple boredom?

Some days ago, I was having coffee with a friend of mine. She is a historian and told a delightful story about a painting created in the 16th century, stolen from and resold to the Portuguese state. And then, my friend shared a moment: she described her excitement when seeing this object in an exhibition for the first time, how she strained her neck to see a specific detail, trying to track invoice stickers or stamps on the back of the painting.

Designing a DREAM toolkit

One of my favourite mantras – borrowed and adapted from Stephen Weil – is that museums are about us. They must be about these connections, these moments of pleasure. We are in a knowledge-based institution, but our experience is emotional. We find snippets of our interests, memories and talents in our visits to a museum.

That is one of the reasons I appreciate our project’s name, “DREAM”, because it acknowledges the personal nature and the magic behind the museum experience. It further empowers the visitor by blending the physical and digital experiences.

However, as in any technology-based experience, the challenge permanently resides in the user experience. How can we persuade our target – teachers – to use the methodology and the platform to share their stories about our museums? Even when underlining this movement for empowerment and co-creation in the museum? How do we motivate people to create stories with us?

With this in mind, we developed a toolkit that aims to overcome barriers:

  1. Due to the high level of expertise, the relation with museums as places of authority, where we don’t have a voice.
  2. The relation with the technology involves a learning cycle, albeit short.
  3. As we lose that ability during adulthood, the storytelling implies a particular personal risk.

The DREAM toolkit offers a self-paced learning journey that focuses on different thematic stages and engagement levels. It provides learning plans, content and references, self-assessment exercises, creative activities and proposals for classwork. The DREAM pilot classes will have a blended learning experience to contribute to a final version of the online course. Between April and October of 2022, the four museums will host different workshops and events with teachers and students.

Towards of freedom and empowerment

We imagine (or dream of) a blended museum space: digital and physical; school and museum; emotions and museum collections. Through the Museater performance, teachers and students can make the museum theirs, creating stories about them connected with museums, heritage, science and territory. This next step is our biggest challenge, also fulfilling this idea of having a museum that is a space of freedom of speech, co-creation and civic participation.

Imagine students looking at the gunpowder millstone. The story starts with the sound of a strong stream that feeds a thriving factory. But suddenly, we hear the noise of an ox, people talking. This narrative is about renewable energy and engineering. We look at the building and marvel. And then, we also talk about the power structure at the factory, labour rights and freedom of speech.

By empowering teachers and focusing on digital tools, critical thinking and digital storytelling, we hope that these new mediators will bring new themes and challenges into the museum.

The DREAM toolkit is almost finished and will be shared on the DREAM website in the near future.