Museums, Society, Inequality (Museum Meanings)

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In fact, as Pierre Bordieu and others discussed, the attribution of value in the context of art is the privilege of players who retain the cultural capital in terms of knowledge, position and education to determine what can count as art. As a consequence, democratizing the processes of exhibition making in the domain of traditional art is still problematic and implies two main challenges.

Their personal memories become a source of knowledge and, offered to visitors to make meaning of the artworks and places, encourage personal associations with the stories narrated and the subjects of the collection. This museological model, which has its source in constructivist learning theories and the conceptualisation of knowledge as a social construct, has prompted institutions to foster visitors to make interpersonal connections with the objects on display, to construct their own meanings and to share them Simon, Even if museums with art historical collections have undertaken projects in this direction, this attitude tends to be taken forward primarily by educational and outreach departments, lacking inputs at interpretative levels in the displays.

Moreover, as the story of Godiva is part of the identity of local visitors, their personal understanding of the object is also validated through an interactive display: what does Godiva mean to me? A screen presents recordings from local citizens who were involved in the display project and tell their sensations according to their personal, academic, cultural or social backgrounds, and visitors can add their views.

Moreover, the display integrates stories with a similar theme from around the world, in order to encourage visitors with diverse cultural backgrounds to make meaning of the painting in relation to their own cultures and go beyond the visible subject. The text panel of the painting tells the story of the subjects depicted, while an interactive screen investigates the history of its restoration. The artwork went through several processes of interventive conservation that included the overpainting of portions of the canvas resulting in a major alteration of its physical appearance.

The interactive screen asks: is it still the artist's own work? The restoration process took place in an open space in the gallery, where visitors were asked to comment during its development. They answered questions such as: should we be doing this? How far should we go? Their comments are still visible on the screen and the debate is ongoing.

Through the screen visitors can learn how a process of restoration can function, consider and express opinions about the ethical implications of conservation, and navigate behind the scenes of a museum. As a consequence, the paper discussed audience participation in three aspects. Both the Laing Art Gallery and the Herbert worked with groups of participants during their redisplay projects.

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The public involvement, facilitated by researchers and interpretation experts, resulted in the development of design platforms that makes their voice visible and audible in the museum, providing tools for new visitors to engage with each other and objects. Also the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, through consultation, involved groups of audience to evaluate their refurbishment process at every stage. Manchester Museum has moved forward the idea that museums should promote public understanding of the activities that take place behind their walls, allowing the audience to express opinions and make decisions.

Similarly, the interactive screen at the Herbert Museum explicitly asks the public to share their understanding of the object and to impose a new value on it. Visitor studies, facilitators and interpretation specialists will play a fundamental role, in order to find points of contact between objects and visitors and complement them into accessible and participative interpretative frameworks, while working closely with the public at every stage.

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As a consequence, the traditional processes of exhibition making will be inverted. Museum professionals will have to study their public, find out their characteristics and work out how they can relate to the collections.

Museums, Society, Inequality (Museum Meanings)

Far from having universal formulas to apply, participatory practices are ad hoc projects arising from the knowledge of objects and visitors and through continuous exchanges between diverse practitioners and audiences. Future studies could investigate the idea of agency related to the re-interpretation of Old Masters. Appraising the socio-cultural history of artworks could serve as a trigger to discuss these topics, meet the needs of other stakeholders within society and make analogies to the present. Old Masters surely embody the elitist nature of the art museum, however this paper aims to suggest that, thanks to their composite history and multiple significances, their potential to re-live in the present and shape our thinking is enormous.

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