The death of Michael Jackson and the ‘Right here, right now’

Museums and galleries are competing for attention in a world super-saturated with the visual, aural and sensory, both real and virtual. We can feel instantly and culturally satiated as fast as we can Google Michael Jackson or Mona Lisa, and without ever having to move location and with minimal investment of time, energy and cost.

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The ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson , died on 25th June, 2009. Within 3 hours the EMP Museum, Seattle USA, announced their tribute of memorial activities to begin the next day. Within 24 hours they delivered an event at a local music spot, exhibited Jackson’s iconic glove and jacket, showcased his music videos onsite and created talk-back stations, a pavement chalk memorial and an opportunity to share reactions online.[2] Wow. Working in a Gallery/Museum as Coordinator of their Young People’s Programme, I admire the feat EMP achieved in planning and delivering such an immediate response and in return making EMP relevant to and valued by it’s community:

Two women, who met while standing in line waiting to watch the memorial on the live-feed at the museum, said that even though they could have watched the memorial at home, they were grateful to have a place to go and wanted to be in the presence of other fans. [3]

Immediacy itself does not signify relevance, but we struggle to be relevant without a timely response; that is, to identify and address current issues, ideas, technology, progress, interests and challenges as they happen and avoid pondering, procrastinating and proceduralising (I made that one up) beyond the point in time that is relevant. In programming for young people, immediacy is a challenge I come across frequently: What’s the Hit? What will they take away from a session that will bring them back for the next? How do we balance an immediate satiation with longer-term engagement, enquiry and create hunger for more? What’s the interest for the right here, right now?

Hungry People 1975 Julian Trevelyan

Hungry People
Julian Trevelyan

Responding is not simply devising stimulating sessions,  but programming for change, so that any session can directly and immediately incorporate unexpected ideas and interests of it’s participants. If we align with our visitors, understand, ask and share their current concerns and invite these as our guiding committee, we work towards creating a fresh and valid learning approach. The challenge to the institution is to implement ways of working that are familiar to young people and fit with their needs. How can we be instant, reactive and embrace the same timeframe as the fast-shifting world we inhabit? How do we keep up, contend with or mirror the choice, accessibility and instant visual, aural and sensory satiation fulfilled by media and consumerism? Art can be slow and seeping but our engagement has to begin with the right here, right now, to capture attention long enough to encourage a change of pace. As an example of swiftness, and the dangers of not acting in such a way, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was funded by the Irvine Foundation, along with 27 other galleries in 2006-11, to explore their own relevance within their communities. Anticipating a rise in technology the museum worked towards a participative virtual record and response, only to discover the fast moving world of technology outran the capabilities of the museum, and resulted in an innovation that was scrapped in 2012 as technology surpassed the pace of the museums response. [4] To work with immediacy asks a lot, including: –  that we embrace action research so that  staff and visitors are encouraged to interpret, engage and take risks, but without the encumbrance of time consuming processes –  that we trust ourselves to spot the challenge, evaluate, react –  that we discover and support a new skillset for the future, skills of creative thinking to change, adapt, respond, react and pro-act –  that we incorporate the experience of staff, the research of institutions and the interests, questions, knowledge and expertise of our visitors. There cannot be suggestions of particular, practical solutions applicable to specific situations, but a wider learning approach that can be applied as appropriate across many situations, and we have a lot to discover about working in this way from our young communities. Immediacy is a challenge posed to museums and galleries, not only from our young people but from the fast evolving and changing worlds of the real and the virtual. A challenge posed to us from future generations of museum goers, who may not even be aware, who may not even be born yet. It’s a challenge to the future of museums and galleries, and one of relevance. To really embrace the young age group we need to find common ground and to understand what is fixed and what is changeable for the institution and for the young people we want to engage with. And when we come across an area that is fixed and not-for-changing, this is precisely the moment we should not answer We don’t do that, but a pose a question to ourselves of Could we do that?  And then we need to act on it, and fast.

[1] Accessed 22.06.14

[2] EMPMuseum (formerly Experience Music Project) 325 5th Avenue N, Seattle, WA98109. Accessed 22.06.14

[3] Accessed 22.06.14