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.
About Desi Gonzalez
Desi Gonzalez leads the design and and development of digital experiences for culture and learning. Puerto Rico-born, Maryland-raised, and now based in Austin, Texas, she is currently the Director of Product at Verb.
Previously, she has led digital strategy at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, built digital tools for the emerging middle class in Peru, developed hands-on learning spaces at the Museum of Modern Art, and managed a kids website at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her writing has been featured in publications including Art in America, Art Papers, Indiewire, and The Brooklyn Rail. She has been invited to speak about art, design, and technology at events held by organizations including SXSW, Google Design, and We Are Museums.
She holds a B.A. in linguistics and art history from Emory University and an M.S. in comparative media studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.