Skip to content

MUSEUM TEEN WEBSITES: A New Space for Plurality and Discourse

Power must be analysed as something which circulates, or rather as something which only functions in the form of a chain. It is never localised here and there, never in anybody’s hands, never appropriated as a commodity or piece of wealth. Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organisation. And not only do individuals circulate between its threads; they are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising this power.

Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge (1980, 96)

Teen websites are separate cyberspaces within the larger space of the institution of art museums where teenagers can participate and contribute on their own terms. Contrasted to the offline, “brick and mortar” space of museums that is often perceived as unfriendly or austere, these websites represent an important space for vernacular discourse, creative expression, knowledge dissemination, and social networking. Museums have been undergoing a transformation prompted by the economic crisis and by the need to compete with other entertainment options. As such, they are pedagogically addressing their audiences (particularly youth) in new ways that are more informal, social, and entertaining. This paper aims to raise awareness of how new technologies are being applied within the field of art museums, and how these websites provide teenagers with the skills and literacies needed to build the foundations for deliberative democracy, citizenship engagement, and creativity in the digital age. Art museums can – and should – be concerned about providing youth with the means for creative participation.

The teen websites represent an alternative to the traditional hegemony of the expert museum professional, yet they are closely linked to teen programs originating at the physical museum, and are closely monitored and often controlled by museum staff. They have had a number of unforeseen consequences to their success. By creating alternative content, teenagers contribute to the displacement of hierarchical knowledge and stability within the museum. Power is negotiated in a dialectical relationship between educated museum professionals and amateur teenagers who have become empowered in their (conscious or unconscious) struggle against the dominant order. Do museums maintain their hegemonic position by controlling content from teen websites, and what are the repercussions of it being marginalized as “teen” content that is judged on separate grounds? Is the Internet an appropriate space for this struggle, or does it require grounding of the museum and the physical experience of art with face-to-face communication? The website participants may start as museum visitors (and repeatedly return as members of museum-based teen programs), but new website visitors may have no knowledge of or even interest in the physical museum. Does this even matter, and to whom? By inviting the public to participate and allowing anonymity, can museums still build a coherent virtual community? Each museum may have different goals in creating their teen website, and subsequently different strategies and evaluative measures to determine their ideas of success.

The article is divided into different categories, much as a normal paper would be; categories include the five case studies, implications of these sites, and theoretical foundations. However, unlike a traditional paper, here the reader is encouraged to navigate this article as one would a website, not necessarily in a linear, progressive manner but with the ability to jump from one category to another at will. Each section contains the necessary “recursivity” to render it meaningful when accessed on its own. Links will also take the reader directly to the various museum sites, as well as to other resources.
Creative Commons License
Museum Teen Websites: A New Space for Plurality and Discourse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.