New Trajectories in Curatorial Experience Design

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Institute of Archaeology

Abstract

New Trajectories in Curatorial Experience Design (NTiCED) brings together curators, designers and heritage specialists to explore innovative approaches to experiential storytelling and community engagement within the emerging experience economy. This cross-disciplinary research programme will include knowledge exchange workshops, public seminars and sector-specific guidance aimed at promoting and facilitating new forms of R&D and design work within the heritage sector. The partners for the project include large scale public institutions (the V&A and the National Trust), agile and innovative design practices (Nissen Richards, MET Studio) and service oriented commercial practices (Barker Langham). These partners represent different dimensions of the Creative Industries, bringing a range of perspectives to bear on the core research question: how can curators and other heritage professionals best engage with innovative methods of experience design to create new models of audience engagement, including truly collaborative forms of co-curation?

The research responds to a growing trend in the heritage sector for more immersive, embodied and engaging forms of interpretation and exhibition design. Such projects demand cross-disciplinary working practices, and may include writers, artists, architects, designers and film-makers working alongside curators, archivists, and conservators to produce new content and activities. These initiatives move beyond the nostalgic infotainment model of earlier heritage experiences by tackling provocative issues in surprising ways. While there has been growing interest in new approaches to exhibition design within the museum sector, less critical attention has been paid to experiences that go beyond the museum walls and engage new audiences through evocative and theatrical heritage interpretation. This project will make a significant contribution to this emerging subject area and - through the production of a new curatorial experience - provide creative inspiration for further pioneering work in this vein. Furthermore, the project will look to examine the different ways in which small and medium sized private companies can work with large scale institutions in an agile and productive way, thus contributing towards new working practices and opportunities for commercial gain. Whilst many experience-led projects require a significant investment of time and money, smaller-scale interventions can also have a major impact on the way sites and collections are perceived and used by different audiences. This research will provide a foundation for such projects moving forward.

The research programme includes extended periods of embedded 'fieldwork' with Project Partners, and will explore the development of curated heritage experiences from concept to realisation. In so doing the project seeks to address issues of working practices, skills development, the challenges of large scale bodies collaborating with agile creative practices, and the potential for experience-led projects to generate new forms of community engagement and co-curation. This experimental approach seeks to challenge the idea that innovation in immersive experiences depends on new technological advances. By understanding broader trends and future trajectories in theatrical design, co-curation and site-specific 'pop-up' interpretation, the research will provide new models of interpretation and curation for the wider heritage community. To this end, the research and associated activities will include significant opportunities for collaboration across the Creative Industries. An evaluation period is also built into the project to enable further reflection on the challenges and opportunities of experiential design. This will have a particular focus on the potential impact of such programmes on future heritage audiences.

Planned Impact

The NTiCED project has been designed with significant and wide-ranging sectoral impact at its core. This will be channelled through three main non-academic communities, encompassing research, practice, and audiences.

1. Partner Organisations: Through collaboration in both research and leadership activities the five Project Partners will benefit from this work in a number of ways. In terms of commercial Creative Economy organisations (MET, Nissen Richards, Barker Langham), the research programme will provide an opportunity to reflect on working practices and processes in experience design that may be implicit but can be enhanced through detailed investigation (including embedded collaborative research). The untapped R&D potential of such organisations is highlighted in Sir Peter Bazalgette's Review of the Creative Industries, and this project seeks to offer a new route for such work within the heritage sector. This will resonate beyond the partner organisations but be felt most keenly within these teams. In addition, by helping to co-organise some of the leadership activities associated with this project, the above companies will benefit from an enhanced research and innovation profile. The V&A Research Institute and the National Trust meanwhile will be able to advocate for new and experimental ways of working as a result of this research. Both organisations are currently paying close attention to shifts in audiences and technologies, as well as new approaches to interpretation and accessibility. This includes pioneering research and practice around immersive experiences and co-curation. The NTiCED project will help to consolidate and push forward this important work, and suggest innovative ways of responding to and promoting new forms of audience engagement.

2. Heritage Practitioners (national and international): The wider heritage sector (including curators, designers, producers, audience researchers and interpretation specialists) will benefit from the empirical and experimental nature of this research, which aims to document and push forward emerging trends in experience design. Through sector-facing 'dispatches' and podcasts, as well as more formal reporting, the NTiCED project will help to provide in-depth knowledge and insight with regards this exciting new field. The planned workshops, conference presentations, and debates will also energise the sector, promoting R&D and innovation as central to curatorial practice (and heritage more generally). As a visually engaging, thoughtfully designed publication, the final edited volume is also intended to appeal to this practice community, and will include contributions from across the sector.

3. General Publics: The research and leadership activities outlined in this proposal are expressly designed to offer new models for audience engagement, especially around the concept of co-curation and community-led R&D work. The very notion of experience design immediately foregrounds the active nature of different forms of visitation, interpretation, performance and object based learning. The development of a new proof of concept curatorial experience design project in year two aims to build on this collaborative, performative approach to audience and community engagement. This will be achieved through in-depth audience workshops which will have a lasting impact on participants in terms of skills sharing and knowledge building. More generally, audiences for the 'pop-up' experience - including young people (16-25) and those currently less engaged with heritage - will benefit from a new perspective on collections and the processes and possibilities of heritage curation.

Publications

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