Museum Making: Creating with New Technologies in Art Museums

Hackathons, maker spaces, R&D labs: these terms are common to the world of technology, but have only recently seeped into museums. The last few years have witnessed a wave of art museum initiatives that invite audiences-from casual visitors to professional artists and technologists-to take the reins of creative production using emerging technologies. The goals of this thesis are threefold. First, I situate this trend, which I call “museum making,” within two historical narratives: the legacy of museums as sites for art making and the birth of hacker and maker cultures. These two lineages-histories of art-based and technology-based creative production-are part of a larger participatory ethos prevalent today. A second goal of this thesis is to document museum making initiatives as they emerge, with an eye to how staff members at museums are able to develop such programs despite limited financial, technological, or institutional support or knowledge. Finally, I critically examine how museum making may or may not challenge traditional structures of power in museums. Museum making embodies a tension between the desire to make the museum a more open and equitable space-both by inviting creators into the museum, and by welcoming newer forms of creative production that might not align with today’s art world-and the need to maintain institutions’ authority as arbiters of culture. My analysis draws on a wide range of fields, including sociology, educational theory, media studies, museum studies, and art theory. This thesis is informed by extensive fieldwork conducted at three sites: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Technology Lab, a program that awards artist grants and mentorship from individuals and technology companies such as Google and SpaceX; the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Media Lab, an innovation lab that invites members of New York’s creative technology community to develop prototypes for and based on the museum experience; and the Peabody Essex Museum’s Maker Lounge, an in-gallery space in which visitors are invited to tinker with high and low technologies.

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Desi Gonzalez

About Desi Gonzalez

A researcher, writer, educator, and media maker, Desi Gonzalez studies the potential of digital media to encourage meaningful engagement with the arts. Her research investigates how change and innovation occur in cultural institutions, specifically focusing on an emerging wave of initiatives in art museums that invite visitors and artists to create with new technologies. At MIT's HyperStudio, she worked on the design and evaluation of tools dedicated to supporting research and learning in the humanities, including an art discovery mobile app and a collaborative annotation platform. Before coming to MIT, Desi spent a year as a Kress Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art developing educational materials such as wall texts, audio tours, games, websites, and the interactive learning space MoMA Art Lab: Movement. Prior to that, she managed and wrote texts for the Whitney Museum of American Art's website for young artists, For Kids. Puerto Rico-born and Maryland-raised, Desi graduated from Emory University with majors in art history and linguistics. She writes for various culture publications about art, language, feminism, and occasionally the intersection of all three. In her spare time, she’s probably eating dessert. Thesis: Museum Making: Creating with New Technologies in Art Museums