28 September 2007

Turning museums into places where people interact

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Local Projects
Print Magazine is reporting on Local Projects, a company that is turning museums into places where people interact with information—and each other.

When Jake Barton, the 34-year-old principal of the interactive design firm Local Projects, thinks about what an exhibition can do, he often considers the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa. The museum documents the forced removal of more than 60,000 residents from a mixed-race neighborhood declared a whites-only zone in 1966, and tells the stories of those displaced. In the early ’90s, when reclaiming that land was still not an option, the museum kept the issue in the public eye through exhibitions and debate; subsequently, the museum’s sister organization helped residents apply to have their land returned. Transforming and healing a community through inclusive storytelling is, in Barton’s eyes, the mandate for museums of the 21st century. These days, he has ample reason to meditate on it: In April, he and his seven-person firm received the commission to codesign the permanent exhibition for the World Trade Center Memorial Museum.”

By choosing Local Projects, the memorial’s directors cast their lot with a new kind of museum that prizes interactivity over top-down presentation. Local Projects insists on a plurality of voices—the exhibitions it creates function as a kind of conversation rather than as repositories of authoritative fact. “Museums are starting to evolve into agents of social change,” Barton says. “That’s being reflected in the numbers of people who are going to museums and the ways museums are functioning as spaces for community dialogue. We [are] trying to make diverse people visible to each other through a storytelling space.”

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