Anthrow Circus

Imaginibus: Fostering Imagination in Museums

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by JC Johnson


Médiation is the French term for museum interpretation. I love the notion of museum educators being mediators between people and objects, facilitating communication and understanding. In my opinion, a museum is doing its job when this relationship between object and visitor is reciprocal: The visitor attentively observes the object and perhaps learns information about it, and she then applies her own experiences and “cultural baggage” to give the object meaning. She leaves the interaction changed, whether through a broader understanding of art history, an idea for a creative project of her own, or a deeper sense of empathy and shared humanity.

I am an American museum educator newly installed in snowy Montreal with my French husband. I spent the last five years in Paris, completing a master’s degree at the École du Louvre and then working for the Agence France-Muséums, the French agency charged with assisting in the creation of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. I am particularly fascinated with how art museums can foster imagination in visitors, especially through the use of handheld technologies. Mobile apps for museum collections ought to be more than glorified audioguides. But at the same time, the technology cannot become the centerpiece of the museum visit, that role belongs to the objects on display. So how can an app on a phone help the visitor fully and authentically interact with an object? This question intrigues me so much that I am seriously considering pursuing doctoral work on this subject in the autumn.

On a personal level, I get the most joy out of time spent in museums when I am actively engaging my imagination. My blog, Imaginibus, is a place where I write about my adventures exploring—and playing in—museums. I occasionally come up with month-long creativity themes, where I propose imaginative ways to interpret artworks and museums around that theme (such as love and celebration, for example) with the aim of looking at everything differently.

I have recently embarked on a new venture called the MusEmvelope (museum + envelope), which I will be distributing through my website. These are actual envelopes that I fill with cards containing fun prompts for creative activities to do in and around art museums. They are designed for people who want a prompt for a new way to interact with artworks and a framework for engaging in their own artistic creation. I love the idea of active visiting, of museums being places of creation and inspiration, and I love helping others experience museums that way too. 

My future articles for Culture Keeper will seek to bring you inside the vibrant, living, breathing life that pulses through museums. I hope these columns will help increase your enjoyment of and interaction with these important cultural institutions.

I will leave you with the official (and exciting!) definition of museums by the venerable ICOM, the International Council of Museums:

A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.

I get chills reading this. Museums have such a noble mission, to be in the service of society and its development. And how provocative that enjoyment is placed at the same level of importance as education and study!

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Marina Gross-Hoy is a writer and museum studies doctoral candidate in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. She is curious about what it means to look at life with the same attention we use when looking at art in a museum. In her own experience, looking closely at her daily life has opened her up to wonder and a deep sense of aliveness. She explores these ideas in her newsletter, where she shares simple practices for looking at life like a work of art.

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