Breaking down the walls of the traditional museum

Museums will become more open and collaborative
The UN Live Museum promises to be a "vibrant exchange of ideas." (Meredith Hutchison/ International Rescue Committee 2015)

This segment originally aired in May, 2018.

When you try to think of a modern, responsive and open institutions, "United Nations" and "museums" might not immediately spring to mind. But Michael Peter Edson is hoping to change that.

He's the co-founder of the Museum for the United Nations — UN Live, an interactive "museum" that tries to break down the walls of traditional collections.
Michael Peter Edson, co-founder of the Museum for the United Nations — UN Live

This isn't a musty building filled with static exhibits. Rather, it's described as a vibrant, online marketplace where anyone can exchange ideas about fostering progress.

"There won't be a collection in the traditional sense, Edson said. "We think of the collection as the collective wisdom, imagination, and creative capacity of everyone in the world to make positive change."

He said the project is an attempt to redefine what the very idea of a museum, from an institution that displays knowledge to one that fosters the exchange of ideas.

"Many museums are built on this academic model of knowledge creation that comes from the 20th and 19th and 18th centuries—where you gather all the experts and all the cool stuff in one place and you decide what the interesting ideas are... and then you deliver them over a wall to a passive and grateful audience," he explained.

"The web just blew all that up and showed us a much faster, much more democratic, much more powerful way of making knowledge—and learning and participating in society—than that old institutional model could ever do."

Edson says the UN Live project, once fully operational, will try to serve as an example that museums should be places, real or virtual, that foster open civic dialogue, and offer a rich, immersive experience that is accessible and added to by those who visit it.

No team of paid experts in an institution is going to be able to match the cognitive and creative capacity of millions or billions of people on the Internet- Michael Peter Edson

He cites the example of a display of SpaceShipOne, the rocket that won the original X-Prize. If you look at the Smithsonian Museum's website, you'll see a picture of it and a bit of "authoritative" text, he said. But you can also go on YouTube and see videos where people have cut together film of it in actual flight.

"So this idea that the future of museums will be something that happens inside institutional walls—that will happen.  But that pales in comparison to what kinds of things amazing ordinary people are able to do with the same ideas," Edson said.

"No team of paid experts in an institution is going to be able to match the cognitive and creative capacity of millions or billions of people on the Internet."



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