Is your museum a commons or a zoo?

Walker Open Field LogoThis past year saw several prominent museums open their doors to public participation in ways they had never before, such as inviting visitors to submit works for exhibition or help determine curatorial selections. At the kickoff event for the Walker Art Center’s Open Field program on 3 June, Jon Ippolito contrasts three different models for the commons such institutions can choose from–a market, a zoo, or a tribe.

As they experiment with inclusion, Ippolito urged cultural institutions to treat the “commons” as more than a branding term, arguing that marketers have begun to use the word as a smokescreen for business as usual. A meshed version of Ippolito’s talk is now online.

In the market paradigm found in museum gift shops and universities dining halls, common spaces are often designed to attract visitors to spend money. In the zoo paradigm, as exemplified by Facebook, exhibiting private behaviors in public is the engine for a hidden economy. In a tribe, meanwhile, the purpose of economic transactions is to cement social bonds, rather than the other way ’round.

Which Commons: Market, Zoo, or Tribe?” concludes with examples of software and real-life protocols that can help institutions move toward a more tribal paradigm for sharing culture. In “Tools for a Healthy Commons,” Open Field coordinator Colin Kloecker blogs about some of these tools on the Walker Web site.

Organized by Kloecker, Shanai Matteson and Sarah Schultz, the Walker’s inaugural symposium also included talks by OurGoods artist Caroline Woolard, Smithsonian Commons lead Michael Edson, landscape designer Laura Musacchio, and ringtone musicologist Sumanth Gopinath.

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