What is a Participatory exhibit?

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Focus Questions for Galileo's World

  • Is the intended audience the university or scholarly community or is it designed for broad public engagement? 

The theme of Galileo’s world was “bringing worlds together.  We connected the World of OU with the World of Galileo.  Creating conversations about these connections was our way of celebrating our 125th anniversary.  Galileo’s World was an exhibition without walls.  It appeared over the course of the last academic year in 20 galleries in 7 locations across the OU campuses of Norman, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. At the National Weather Center, more rare books were on display than at any other location outside the library. Two exhibits were held at the university Natural History Museum and several at the university art museum.  So the exhibition engaged the entire university… and beyond.  From the outset, we have been coordinating exhibit-based learning activities with educator’s curricular goals. The OU Lynx is our umbrella website to distribute open educational resources. Learning activities from every gallery are gathered together in the Exploration Room. So with respect to this first question, we opted to engage a broad public.

  • Is the exhibition curated by scholarly specialists or is it participatory?

By participation we mean the co-creation of knowledge and meaning.  Here are three examples:  First, students and faculty in the College of Engineering created a 1/10th scale model of the leaning tower of Pisa.  More than 20 students traveled to Pisa on this project.  Second, the School of Music presented an opera by Monteverdi that reflects the influence of Galileo’s father Vincenzo.  Third, in the spring semester of 2017, the drama program will present the world’s debut of Galileo’s Torch, a new play by James Reston on Galileo’s trial.  So our approach to Galileo's World was participatory, in that knowledge and meaning were created not just by historians of science, but by and for the college of engineering, the school of music, the school of drama, the museums and other partners, and the public.  A participatory exhibit entails a certain relinquishing of curatorial control.

Participatory Exhibit Goals

Modern museum design is social, participatory, and visitor-contingent.  

Participatory means more than that the exhibit experience is interactive and hands-on.  Even more profoundly, an exhibit is participatory when it enables and prompts visitors or students to become co-creators of knowledge and meaning.  
 

Traditional museum Participatory museumNina Simon, The Participatory Museum

This participatory character of exhibits is articulated by Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum (2010); http://www.participatorymuseum.org.

By its nature, a participatory exhibit entails a certain relinquishing of curatorial control.  The goal becomes less didactic, in order to focus instead upon how to inspire, encourage, provoke and facilitate visitors to discover and explore for themselves.

By this definition, a participatory exhibit will by nature be both social and visitor-determined.  Social means that it connects people by prompting dynamic conversation and promoting human interaction.  Visitor-contingent means that, rather than imposing a single pre-determined path or prescribing a uniform experience, the exhibit by design encourages visitors to experience it in multiple ways.  The meaning of the exhibit emerges as a process of co-creation between visitors, curators, and event and program sponsors.

With a participatory exhibit design, the mission of library and special collections exhibits is to promote undergraduate and public engagement through meaningful exploration and discovery.