The theme at this year’s MuseumNext was ‘gamechangers’ and while there wasn’t much talk of games per se (besides the indoor snowball fight to kick things off!) there was a sense of adventure in the programming and a reassuringly playful approach to museum stewardship on show.

Here are three top level takeaways from a great conference.

1. The search for purpose

Amidst shifting audience needs, looming cuts and changing funding models it was great to see the heart of so many organisations beating strong in a diverse array of examples paying testament to the huge potential art and culture has for positive transformation.

  • Diversity – a bubbly and beaming Museum Detox community were in full force, shining a positive rather than shaming light on the lack of – but growing – diversity in the industry.
  • Social changeDeborah Cullinan of YBCA spoke passionately about efforts in San Francisco to regenerate communities through art and business incubators.
  • Sex education – filling a curriculum gap, the British Museum are teaching teenagers about the birds and the bees via ancient objects.
  • Environmentalism – through direct action (Liberate Tate ‘donating’ an artwork by marching a turbine blade into Tate’s turbine hall) and immersive exhibits (ArtScience Museum showing rising sea levels) the important stuff is rightfully on the agenda.
  • Mind expansion – “Art is for breaking our existing thought patterns,” claims the trailblazing Adam Lerner of Denver Museum of Contemporary Art.

2. Experiments in format

On the one hand, you could say museums are still stuck in the dark ages (a predominantly white elite) but on the other hand, there’s an awful lot of exciting experimentation going on with a view to broadening audiences.

  • Blended experiencesTim Powell revelled in the ability of HRP’s blended physical / digital onsite experience to mess with visitors’ heads.
  • Smart watches – being candidly dissected by Shelley Bernstein at Barnes Foundation and spreading to other organisations like MAK in Vienna, with mixed results; a popular experience but not as hands-free and intuitive as they’d hoped.
  • VR – comfortably part of the museum lexicon, with shout-outs for Handley Page VRTilt Brush & Samsung Gear as a great tool in learning workshops.
  • Fairground paraphernalia – an enterprising Swiss museum (Stapferhaus) installed a ferris wheel and recorded visitor responses to probing questions, resulting in some charming films.

3. A celebration of process

Another quote from Adam Lerner: “Museums are great at showing end product and rubbish at showing process”. It’s easy to agree, but the process was certainly on show at MuseumNext Europe 2017.

  • Lab #1 – HRP have a fun-looking prototyping space at Hampton Court. No wonder this dark horse is releasing some great work.
  • Lab #2 – Dave Patten discussed various projects emerging from the new Lab at Science Museum with one – a hack day – releasing all code to GitHub.
  • Lab #3 – At Museum of New Zealand Te Papa, the re-worked, glass-fronted learning space is more welcoming, more interactive and more popular than ever.
  • Lab #4 – The new Museum of Tomorrow in Rio has successfully mastered “being amateur and staying curious” in their jam-packed, hands-on sessions exploring what the future holds.
  • Partnerships – aside from the all-too-familiar “highbrow institution + bankrolling tech firm” setup, collaboration of all forms was on show: the Swedish Moderna Museet joined forces with famous Instragrammers for Acclimatize, while Honor Harger argued for “bits not atoms”, talking through her collaboration with an 80-strong art collective to create 15 interactive exhibits for ArtScience Museum in Singapore.


The Museum Next brand is blossoming with Jim Richardson now focussed exclusively on his job as helmsman and we look forward to next year on home turf.

One last thing – Sjarel Ex, Director of Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam, quoted a study in the closing panel on leadership: children want more kids-only days and (you know where to find us!) more games…

Ben Templeton

Ben is an Associate at PRELOADED.