Embedding plurality: Exploring participatory practice in the development of a new permanent gallery
journal contributionposted on 03.07.2015, 10:12 by Katy Bunning, J. Kavanagh, K. McSweeney, Richard Sandell
Increasing numbers of museums and galleries worldwide have developed an array of working practices that might be termed 'participatory' or 'co-creative', which seek to involve visitors, non-visitors, community and interest groups with diverse forms of expertise and perspective in their activities. Frequently the central aim of such practices has been to strengthen relationships between a museum and its audiences through projects that are jointly conceived and developed with local communities. However, relatively little attention has been given to participatory practice within the work of larger institutions, particularly those with a national and international remit, reach and audience base, where participatory practices are adopted to enrich the development and content of new permanent displays (aimed at large and diverse audiences). Drawing on a single case study – the development of the permanent Information Age gallery at the Science Museum in London, which opened in 2014 – this paper aims to reflect upon the extent to which existing concepts, theories and approaches to participation and co-creation resonate with museum work of this kind. Unlike many participatory practices internationally, the range of projects and activities utilised in the development of Information Age were driven less by a desire to share authority and decision-making with communities outside the museum and more by a concern to foster involvement with diverse communities of interest in the making of a major gallery and to generate and embed plural perspectives on the objects and stories presented within it. This paper raises further questions around how participatory work is perceived, valued and shared across the sector.