This blogpost is by Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution who keynoted last year’s Sharing is Caring and made a fervent call to the museum community to go boldly into the present. Michael tweets at @mpedson
When I first heard about the 2011 Sharing is Caring seminar, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Most conference titles are simple and descriptive, designed to make it easy to know what they are about, and to make it easy for bosses to say “yes, you may go.” But… Sharing is Caring? I know that the Danes are a hyggelig bunch, but I wondered what was going on there in Copenhagen. Maybe something was getting lost in translation?
But over the course of the last year, through working with the conference organizers and many of the speakers and participants, I’ve developed an immense respect for the power and wisdom of these words and the ideals they promote,
- sharing, as a deeply moral impulse to take the knowledge, beauty, and secrets that we know are there, locked within our organizations, and make them available to every person on earth
- and caring, as a manifestation of our collective duty to ensure that everyone in society has access to the full spectrum of ideas, experiences, and resources that they need to live happy and successful lives
The word caring, in particular, is complex and filled with potential. Beneath its soft exterior lies a sharp and forceful challenge: caring is not part of our normal workplace vocabulary, but it should be, as we’re all ultimately in the business of creating a better society. When we make the word “caring” more present in our organizations it becomes a powerful way to connect old ways of working (maximize profit or efficiency, workers as replaceable cogs, audiences as passive consumers) with the next frontier of work: building equity and civic value through openness, transparency, generosity, and community. The word “caring” can be used like a keyword, a sigil, or a token (in the gaming sense) that allows us to step outside our old organizational habits and think bigger thoughts about what we should be accomplishing together.
And society really needs us to accomplish great things right now. The work of heritage organizations is desperately important: more so today than it has ever been. The economic, cultural, and environmental instability of the present moment and the looming prospect of accelerating change makes it likely that we will live the rest of our lives in an epoch of dramatic and continuous upheaval. The ideas, habits, and institutions we developed in the 20th century were very good at bringing us to this tense and uncertain moment, but they will not be sufficient to carry us safely forward. It is only by creating more shared experience and dialog in our communities, developing more insight and innovation, improving access to our past, and celebrating the deep satisfaction of artistic creation and culture that we will be able to build the habits and wisdom necessary chart a path forward. Who will help these changes happen?
This is our mission in society—and we can
succeed at it, but not alone
We will. This is the mission of heritage organizations in society—and we can succeed at it, but not alone. A few more people reading our books, visiting our museums, or looking at our online collections won’t be enough. Making our institutions bigger and more glamorous won’t be enough. We have a lot of brilliant colleagues but anything we do by ourselves or for ourselves won’t be big enough, smart enough, or fast enough to make a difference because ultimately it’s not our institutions that matter. What matters is millions and millions of citizens wrestling with big ideas, engaging in personal discovery, making new things, and sharing with one another. Maybe, if we’re honest and humble and we dedicate ourselves to supporting these civic outcomes we will also see millions and millions of citizens using our institutions every day as a common resource that they care about, contribute to, and love as their own.
Reading the Sharing is Caring 2012 conference blog and program fills me with hope. When Sarah Giersing from the Copenhagen City Museum talks about sharing authority; when Peter Leth from Creative Commons shows what teachers can do with open resources (and when Metete Sanderhoff from the National Gallery of Denmark tells them “It’s your museum: use it”); when Jasper Visser talks about “sharing as an attitude”; when Lene Krogh Jeppesen and the team at @skattefar shows us how government can listen to citizens; and through the example of Shelley Bernstein’s pioneering work at the Brooklyn Museum and the work of all the Sharing is Caring 2012 speakers, I can see a future in which institutions and the public work side-by-side to build a better future, sharing and caring together as equals.
The Sharing is Caring 2012 conference will inspire me on December 12. Colleagues from all over the world will be watching you in Copenhagen and cheering you on. We are thankful to this year’s speakers and participants, the organizing committee, and the Association of Danish Museums for exploring and celebrating these ideas.
Other posts related to “Sharing is Caring”
- Ellen Pettersson: Digidel – kampagne for digital inklusion
- Lene Krogh Jeppesen: @skattefar – a conversational partner in a digitized tax system
- Peter Leth: Pilfingre er velkomne
- Shelley Bernstein keynote ved Sharing is Caring 2012
- Sarah Giersing: Brugerinddragende formidling og fremtidens kulturarv
- Jasper Visser: The counter-intuitive reality of sharing