Art Museums Online: Using Interactive Websites to Build Cultural Capital

By Wendy Quinlan-Gagnon.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Much has been written about art museums as shrines (Duncan, 1995) art museums as temples (Marstine, 2006), art museums as “social and symbolic spaces” or as ideological [state] apparatuses by implication (Bourdieu, Darbel & Schnapper, 2004; Gans, 1999; Bourdieu, 1981; DiMaggio, 1979, for example). Even more has been written about the need for changes within the art museum complex: the need for art museums to become more inclusive, more democratic (Nussbaum 2010, Deitch 2010, Mouffe 2009; Bennett, 2005; Dana, 2004, for example). Nonetheless, despite many new practices over the last 40 years, art museums remain, to a large extent, elitist. My paper examines ways in which interactive websites can be, and are being, used to open up the art museum to new and more diverse audiences. Using a mix of critical discourse analysis (CDA) and multimodal discourse analysis/semiotics, I examine the websites of four art museums (The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern in London) to show that art museum websites not only offer unprecedented access to information about art and artists, but also provide a new and different kind of Habitas for developing, or increasing, cultural capital. While recognizing the limitations presented by this kind of research—the problem of boundaries due to an excess of information, for example, and the complexity of trying to interpret such multi-layered, self-mediated data—I look for answers to two main questions: 1) Do art museum websites continue to perpetuate the same elitist discourses that many other aspects of the art museum do? and 2) Can art museum websites help to open up the art museum experience to wider audiences and attract people who would not usually enter the art museum complex?

Keywords: Inclusion, Exclusion, Art Museums, Websites, Cultural Capital, Habitas, Shrines, Temples, Ideological State Apparatuses

The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.23-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 247.203KB).

Dr. Wendy Quinlan-Gagnon

President and Owner, WQG Consulting, Inc., Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

Dr. Wendy Quinlan-Gagnon completed her PhD thesis on aspects of inclusion and exclusion in public art museums. She has been a long-time supporter of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and is a frequent visitor to, and sometimes member of, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern in London. Dr. Quinlan-Gagnon is the owner and president of WQG Consulting, Inc., a small company that focuses on helping organizations generate excellence in the workplace through competency-based management and policies of inclusion. Alternatively, she has taught English Literature and Expository Writing for the University of Manitoba in Lahr, Germany and Writing and Communications for Algonquin College in Ottawa and Pembroke, Ontario. She has also worked with refugees and immigrants in Canada. She is currently working on a book on the changing roles of public art museums in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.


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