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Psyched about Storytelling

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

AAM just announced the theme for our 2013 annual meeting in Baltimore, and it is (drumroll, please):


This is such a great theme, for many reasons.

  • While people who work in, and with, museums can’t seem to agree on how to define “museum,” we always circle back to the feeling it has something to do with “the real stuff.” And what distinguishes the real thing from a copy or a fake? Its story (read: provenance). People often love objects for their beauty, but they love them even more for the stories and emotions embodied in them.
  • Everyone has stories to tell, so stories are a great medium for museums to invite people to contribute content and share their experiences.
  • Stories can be funny, sad, heartfelt, sexy, outrageous—qualities that museum exhibitions all too often lack.
  • And (very important for CFM) stories are a compelling and immersive way to explore the future.
I’ve dreamt up a bunch of projects CFM could launch leading up to Baltimore. In the spirit of crowdsourcing, I’m sharing these nascent ideas with you in today’s post. Please use the poll at the end of this post to tell me which, if any, of these you’d like CFM to instigate.
  1. Nowadays, any object can be tagged, catalogued and connected to the Cloud. What happens when these objects start having adventures and compiling their own histories? The Tales of Things project by the Internet of Things is a platform that enables anyone to tag any object with an RFID (internet connected graphic) to create a shared public catalog record of the object’s story. I blogged about the project, and since then, they’ve done even more interesting stuff exploring how stories enhance the perceived value of objects. I’d love to do a project about objects, and storytelling, that launches an RFID-tagged object from D.C. to find its way to a museum in, say, Australia. The object would be helped along each step of the way by whoever it is passed to, and each recipient/finder would document their part of the story on the Internet of Things. (I think of this project as Paddle-to-the-Sea for the internet age.)
  2. One topic featured in TrendsWatch 2012 is the current demand for mobile, transitory, pop-up experiences. I’d love for Michelle DelCarlo to incite meeting attendees travelling to Baltimore via Amtrak to create pop-up museums on the trains using her template. What object would you bring on a train to share with fellow riders, and what compelling story would it tell?
  3. Thomas Allen Harris recently blogged for CFM about his Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Project, which he describes as “StoryCorps” meets “Antique Roadshow.” The result is, in effect, a virtual museum built from the roots up by African American communities around the country. If we invited Mr. Harris to hold a DDFR event in Baltimore, in conjunction with the annual meeting, could this create a bridge between AAM attendees and the local community?
  4. The “Significant Objects Project,” created by author and journalist Rob Walker, recruited writers to create fictional backstories for objects that were then auctioned on Ebay, dramatizing the power of storytelling to enhance the value of even the most mundane things. (There’s a book on the project coming out soon. I’ve pre-ordered it.) Studio 360 recently recruited Rob to run their own “Significant Objects” contest, inviting listeners to contribute their stories to thrift shop items Rob picked out. This is pretty transgressive stuff for museums—can fictional stories be as compelling as the truth? Perhaps Rob could explore this question with CFM through a Significant Objects event.
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So, what’s it going to be? Cast your vote for one or more of these ideas. And use the comments section below to build on, critique and otherwise improve these projects or propose new ones.

<a href=””>What idea would you like the CFM to explore for the 2013 Annual Meeting?</a>
It’s particularly appropriate for me to invite you to weigh in on these ideas for storytelling projects, as it parallels the way the annual meeting session proposals are going to work this year. AAM is creating an online platform where you post your session ideas to get input from your colleagues and connect with potential collaborators. You can use that feedback to refine your ideas & finalize your format and speakers before the Aug. 24 session deadline. I’ll be posting some CFM session ideas on the annual meeting site, and look forward to hearing what you have to say.

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