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Visit to Museum in a Box HQ

Jennifer Wexler's profile image

Jennifer Wexler

A little over a week ago, Jo, Abi, and I were lucky enough to make a special visit to Museum in a Box (MiaB) Headquarters in Shoreditch. Located just around the corner from the ‘Silicon Roundabout’, MiaB is at the cutting edge of DIY cultural heritage-digital interactives, allowing museums, schools, and anyone who is interested to develop and create their own mini-museums in a box.

We met with George Oates, the head of MiaB and our creative industry partner, and Charlie, MiaB designer, to discuss our projects, upcoming work packages, and to learn more about MiaB’s working practices and plans. As Abi and I are in the process of developing our own projects in connection with MiaB, it was great to get insights from George about her experiences and best practice in developing various MiaB collections over the last few years.

Fun times trying out the kit (brain boxes) at MiaB HQ. Note: chocolate may have been involved in the proceedings!

For example, depending on the focus of a MiaB collection, ideally it is best to stick to 9-12 objects or postcards (eg. around 10 1-minute stories) for interactions, as this makes a collection easily digestible in a single sitting. George rightly points out to us that is it not just about having fancy 3D prints for MiaB collections, but rather about being creative about fashioning different types of experiences, which sometimes can be done just as well using DIY creations such as mini-postcards printed at home. The key to a great interaction is to consider: ‘who is the audience’ and ‘what is the context’? For the content, it is best to be challenging, not didactic and to create questions that allow the interactive experiences to lead towards the self-creation of knowledge. All key points for us to consider as we move forward developing our projects.

George, Abi, and Jo discussing CEEF project plans.

We went over lots of project plans with George, including specific questions about creating narrative structures and storytelling via MiaB and how we can use MiaB to create interactive digital spaces in different spaces across the Fitzwilliam. Discussion continued around future planning for upcoming events, such as our CEEF conference on 3 June, and possible grant applications to extend the project in new and exciting ways (stay tuned!).

We made it onto the official MiaB planning wall via rainbow post-it notes!

After the hard work of discussing project plans, we got to delve into MiaB’s seemingly endless archive of 3D prints and postcards to have a play! This is the brilliant thing about MiaB, it naturally lends itself to an easy engagement and exploration – we naturally want to find out what each object is and the content connected to it. Sadly, I did not get a photo of George’s favourite collection – the box of bums (reminding us all of the recent #BigMuseumBumCount that counted the most museum bums at our fellow UCM institution, the Museum of Classical Archaeology)….Let’s just say, some interesting noises come out of that particular MiaB collection!

Delving into the MiaB collection archive…

Recently, MiaB have taken on a mass prototyping challenge and sent out over 40 boxes as part of their Pilot Scheme to allow projects from all over the world to trial making their own boxes and feedback on their experiences. This is the biggest trial that MiaB have ever undertaken, which is great for the development of our projects as it gives us a community we can connect with as we develop our own boxes, as well as a series of results and findings that can also inform our own research.

Map showing the types of organisations and where pilot boxes have been sent.
Prints from their collection

I will end here on some lovely little prints of 3D objects from the ancient Mediterranean – inspiration for my own project looking at how we can use MiaB to explore the Fitzwilliam’s extensive Mediterranean collections and create new ways of understanding and engagement. MiaB has also inspired Abi’s project that will send ‘the Fitz, in bits’, drastically increasing the reach of the museum’s collections by running pilot schemes in clinical settings and with disadvantaged communities in rural Cambridgeshire. Much food for thought as we look forward to our next stage of work with MiaB!

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