Tag Archives: Thought-Leaders

Going Mobile in Historic Homes

21 Jun

Did you miss our webinar with Chris Shires, Director of Interpretation and Programs at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House? Watch it below or download and share with your colleagues.

The Freedom Center’s Richard Cooper on the Future of Museums and the Role Technology Will Play

22 Oct

This interview is part of our Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Richard Cooper

Manager of Interpretive Services

Richard C. Cooper is the Manager of Interpretive Services at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center where he oversees the development and presentation of the overall interpretive, educational strategies used with the general public in the exhibit galleries to include guided tours, demonstrations, self-guided activities, and first & third-person interpretation. He also actively works with the Exhibits and Collections departments to develop the interpretation of traveling exhibitions. Rich came to the Freedom Center in the capacity of Interpretive Services Coordinator where he was in charge of maintaining the day-to-day operations of the Interpretive Services program within the museum’s 158,000 square foot facility that opened in 2004. Rich received his B.A. in American History from the University of Cincinnati.  He is currently attending Northern Kentucky University to obtain a Masters Degree in Public History.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Rich: Wow…There so many outstanding museums out there today that I have visited this year.  But, if I have to pick…I will settle for two – the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis, Indiana and the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Indiana Historical Society has become outstanding at bringing history to life in a whole new way in their experiences called You Are There.  In these experiences they recreate historical pictures from Indiana’s past and allow for visitors to step into those scenes.  The City Museum is probably one of the most exciting museums I have ever visited.  Both young and old have the chance to crawl through amazing caves, and see creative pieces of recycled/repurposed architectural and industrial objects within their collection.  Check out this Museum Minute post to see a blog written by a colleague of mine, Jamie Glavic (@MuseumMinute) and videos I created from inside the City Museum.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum recently?

Rich: I would have to say MOMA Unadulterated at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  They created a wonderful tour where children actually interpret art through their eyes.  In the field of interpretation, we are always searching and creating new ways for visitors to become participants in the story.  This new tour having children interpret the art through their eyes takes this idea of visitor participation to a whole new level for the field.

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year(or have something coming up soon) that you are especially proud of/ excited about?

Rich: This summer the Freedom Center opened a terrific changing exhibition called Music of Change: Hymns, Blues, & Rock.  The exhibition has challenged and inspired visitors to recognize the power of music and how it is used in their own lives to express camaraderie in connection with social movements and attitudes.  The exhibition was created by the Freedom Center Curator, Dina Bailey (@NURFCDina) and graduate students at Northern Kentucky University.  The exhibition is open to the public until September 22, 2012.  The Freedom Center mobile tour app available via web app and in the Apple App store has a selection of music that helps to bring Music of Change to life for visitors as they travel through the exhibition.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Rich: ….Twitter.  I have to admit, that I am fairly new to Twitter.  But it is incredible.  It has enabled me to expand the interpretation of the Freedom Center.  It has also allowed for me to interact with other professionals in weekly conversations around numerous topic in the museum and education fields.  I have made it a personal goal to tweet about a major topic that relates to the mission of the Freedom Center on a daily basis.

TourSphere: Apple or Android (or other)?

Rich: I am absolutely an Apple person.  I have everything from an iMac, iPhone, iPad, to a MacBook Pro in my collection of electronics.  I think Apple has done a wonderful job of linking all their devices through iCloud.  It makes it easier to start a project on one device and quickly pick it up on another device and continue the project where you left off.  However, I still love my basic Kindle too.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Rich: I would have to go with “Participatory.”  I think the field is continuing to find new ways for visitors both inside and beyond the walls of institutions to fully participant with our museums.  You can see this throughout the field as more museums are developing apps, learning how to utilize social media, allowing for visitors and communities to create exhibits, employing radical trust, and broadening our reach to include more diversity in the themes we cover.   Creating these types of experiences will allow for more audiences both young and old from diverse backgrounds to feel truly a part of our great museums.

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Rich: Great Question.  I would say that financial stability will remain a major topic throughout the field.  I think this will also lead to more museums talking about “mergers.”  The Freedom Center and the Cincinnati Museum Center just announced the merger of our two great institutions to help strengthen the financial stability of both institutions.  This model could be used by other museums across the nation as budgets, and funding continue to tighten over the next couple of years.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about? 

Rich: The only thing I might rant about is that I highly encourage everyone to remember that interpretation is the key.  Without good interpretation, a project will not be as successful as it could be.  You could have the coolest piece of new technology, but after a while, without good interpretation, the project will not reach its potential.  Technology is just an avenue to help bring the interpretation to life.

I highly encourage everyone to check out the new AASLH Educators & Interpreters Blog at and the Museum Minute Blog at I contribute to both blogs.

Rich, thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights!  You continue to challenge and inspire us!

Keep up with Rich here: 

Twitter: @NURFCRich

Check out the NURFC App – freedom.toursphere.com (web app) or in the Apple Store Android Marketplace.

Seb Chan on Smart Technology in Museums and “an operating system for the building”

18 Sep

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

SebChan

Photo credit JJ Halans

Seb Chan

Director of Digital & Emerging Media Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York

Seb Chan is currently the Director of Digital & Emerging Media, Smithsonian, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. He is responsible for museum’s complete digital renewal during a time when the museum is rebuilding its main campus and transforming into a ’21st century museum’.

Until November 2011, he led the Digital, Social and Emerging Technologies department at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, where he oversaw the implementation of Open Access and Creative Commons licensing policies and many projects exploring new ways for visitors and citizens to engage and contribute to the Powerhouse’s collection, as well as state-wide and national collaborative initiatives.

As a cultural sector consultant he has helped many organisations and institutions all over the world strategise and implement cutting-edge technologies. Most recently he has been working with Culture24 in the UK on the Let’s Get Real project helping UK institutions develop better approaches to evaluating the success of digital endeavours. He also worked with Dan Hill and Marcus Westbury on the planning and development for The Edge, a digital cultural centre, at the State Library of Queensland.

He is a regular speaker on the cultural heritage and arts circuit but has also spoken more broadly at Picnic, Webstock, Web Directions South, TedXSydney.

Chan was a member of the Australian Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce, and in a parallel life he has been heavily involved in electronic music and arts. He was the founder of Cyclic Defrost Magazine and many late night adventure playgrounds in Sydney.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Seb: For me there have been two museum experiences that have caught my attention.

The first was a visit to the Museum of Old & New Art in Hobart Tasmania just before I left Australia. I’ve blogged about that experience here – but the short version is that the ‘total immersion’ of that venue radically shifted my thinking about how museums could be exclusive without being exclusionary.

The second was a family visit to the recently renovated Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City. I was there at the tail end of a road trip, having driven through the surrounding landscapes for the previous few days. What struck me about the Utah museum was the way in which, unlike most other natural history museums, its spectacular collection (dinosaurs!) had come from the immediate surrounds. Thus it had a sense of immediacy and relevance that is very often missing from similar collections when they are transported to institutions far away.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum recently?

Seb: I see a lot of technology in my work and in the last few years I’ve become more allergic to its presence in museums. In many ways I think the job of any technology in a museum is to ‘elegantly disappear’.

That said, I paid a short visit to the Google Chrome Web Lab at the Science Museum in London a few weeks ago and the large scale robotic drawing machines ‘herding the avatars of online visitors’ was pretty cool as were the robots drawing portraits in sand. The Chrome Web Lab was one of the more successful attempts at bringing online visitors and in-gallery visitors together to be productive in the same space.

We’re also seeing a lot of activity at the moment with 3D printing (and consumer-grade 3D digitisation) which is exciting. As I opined at the NAEA Conference in January at the Met, I’m waiting for institutions to really start rolling out the “123DCatch + Maker-Bot” consumer grade model to general visitors and schools.

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year(or have something coming up soon) that you are especially proud of/ excited about?

Seb: The best thing we did this year was close our main campus. Not permanently, but Cooper-Hewitt is undergoing a massive renovation which is why I moved over from Australia.

This is giving us the (unique) opportunity to rethink everything from the ground up. We’re working closely with Diller, Scofidio & Renfro and Local Projects to reinvent the idea of a ‘design museum’ along with a ‘historic house’ along the way.

On one level this is allowing us to ask questions about the totality of a visitor’s experience from ticketing and food choices through to how exhibitions operate in the broader context of the building as a whole. On another level it is forcing us to consider how to ‘build technology in from the ground up’ – or, as I’m fond of quoting strategic designer Dan Hill, “creating a new operating system for the building”.

And of greatest relevance in the context of this interview, this means a true ‘mobile first’ approach – not just for visitors but also for staff.

Of course, we’re doing offsite exhibitions, national outreach and education and the rest during our campus closure. We’ve been prototyping and trialling new solutions along the way using these offsite opportunities as test environments. My web team is also currently building a new toolkit for how collections work on the web which is starting from the a position of ‘default = abundance’ which, for art museums, is counter-normal.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Seb: Working in senior management I find that any new technologies short of time travel and teleportation are always going to be a disappointment. In fact it has been the various ‘quantified self’ technologies that have been most impactful for me this year – just in terms of tracking my energy intake and usage along with stress and happiness levels. Knowing my own physical and mental states with more clarity has had significant benefits in making my overall life easier.

I haven’t really changed my ‘tools of the trade’ since I was interviewed for Uses This  so if you are interested in my hardware and software specs then that might be good reading.

TourSphere: Apple or Android (or other)?

Seb: I still hold that eventually mobile web will be the way to go.

Nevertheless, right now I am yet to find any cultural institutions that don’t have an overwhelming existing Apple-centric userbase either in the USA, UK/Europe or Australia.

Android might have far more devices out in the world but to date the evidence is that of the people who actively visit museums and use their own devices to connect to the web, it is Apple all the way. Probably the lowest Apple figures I’ve seen have been around 65-70% (and the highest being 95%).

I’m sure that if museums diversified their audiences more then we’d see a lot more Androids in the figures. And perhaps that is becoming the case for children’s’ museums and science centers but not for art museums.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Seb: “Curator-Roomba-Drones”.

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

There’s an ongoing realignment to smaller budgets, retiring staff, changing educational priorities, and greater competition for time and attention. Put together it becomes an enormous strategic challenge for museums to find the time to reinvent and realign.

Sometimes the smaller museums have the advantage despite their smaller budgets and those who find themselves in supportive communities should be doing all they can to experiment and exert their agile structures. The larger museums are all coming to terms with their own ageing bodies and failing architectures. The sensible amongst them are doubling down their efforts on structural change.

There’s also got to be a much needed new wave of focus on collections. On one hand, how to get better at ‘editing’ and ‘deaccessioning’ what we have. And on the other hand, aggressively collecting the present with better foresight as to what will matter decades (centuries?) into the future. Global collaboration –  an equivalent of the ‘global seed bank’  for art and cultural heritage into which all institutions contribute – is something that isn’t really so far fetched these days.

I get the sense that the wave of deadening managerialism is receding and this is opening up a lot of opportunities for the ‘higher risk, higher reward’-type of charismatic and visionary leadership that so many emerging museum professionals want to experience and work for/with. ‘Museums with attitude’ might be back on the cards again. Except now this attitude comes with a commitment to access.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?  If so, please share..

Seb: I’m always ranting on my museum blog Fresh & New(er), although a little less than usual right now because of the rapid pace of change at work. My team at Cooper-Hewitt is blogging their new projects and reports over at http://labs.cooperhewitt.org too.

Thanks for sharing your sense of humor and incredible perspective with us, Seb!  We look forward to hearing more (and seeing the incredible redesign at Cooper-Hewitt!).

Keep up with Seb here:

Blog: freshandnew.org
twitter: @sebchan

Nancy Proctor on Mobile in Museums (and Revolutionary Change)

20 Jul

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Nancy Proctor

Head of Mobile Strategy & Initiatives Smithsonian Institution

Nancy Proctor heads up mobile strategy and initiatives for the Smithsonian Institution, and is co-chair of the Museums & the Web annual conference. Nancy co-founded TheGalleryChannel.com in 1998 with Titus Bicknell to present virtual tours of innovative exhibitions. It was acquired by Antenna Audio, where Nancy led New Product Development from 2000-2008, introducing the company’s multimedia, sign language, downloadable, podcast and cellphone tours. She also directed Antenna’s sales in France from 2006-2007, and worked with the Travel Channel’s product development team. From 2008-2010 she was Head of New Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Nancy served as program chair for the Museums Computer Network (MCN) conference and co-organizes the Tate Handheld conference. She also manages MuseumMobile.info, its wiki and podcast series, and is Digital Editor of Curator: The Museum Journal.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest recently?

Nancy: So many good ones.  I’ll just talk about a couple that have really stuck with me:

  • Scapes by Halsey Burgund at the DeCordova Sculpture Garden is still one of my favorite museum apps. There are so many things about it that make it stand out for me. I love the way it takes traditional concepts like “stops” and “soundtracks” – and really flips around how they’re used. It’s interesting (and not surprising at all) that it’s an artist that has pushed the limits of the concept of an audio tour here.  You can read a detailed description of my thoughts on it at the Museum Mobile Wiki.
  • Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania -The entire place is amazingly complex and interesting.  All elements are perfectly and completely integrated and of the highest possible quality: from the landscape and the (recommended) arrival at the museum by boat, to the museum’s architecture, collections, exhibitions, library, visitor services, O guide, restaurant, winery, brewery and retail opportunities, everything seems mutually-supportive and organically wrapped around the visitor.  I wrote a full review of my experience for Museum3.

And here are a couple more that aren’t mobile-related (though they do rely on impressive technology):

  • Doug Aitken: Song 1 at the Hirshhorn.  This is just a phenomenal work that uses the exterior of the museum in a way that reinvented the entire Smithsonian – I loved it!
  • Isaac Julien: Ten Thousand Waves at San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. I visited this during Museums and the Web and loved it.  Worth noting is that my 2 year-old daughter was enthralled too!

Nancy’s husband and daughter viewing Ten Thousand Waves @MCA San Diego. Photo by Peter Samis

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Well, it’s not from last year – it’s actually from next year, but I am extremely excited about what the Cleveland Museum of Art is doing with their Gallery 1 project. It is a 40-foot x 6-foot multi-touch display which allows touch-based exploration of the museums collection and exhibits. It will be seamlessly integrated in their mobile app experience which will include image recognition, indoor location-aware content and social media check-ins. Visitors can simply select content from the kiosk and add it to their mobile experience.

It is supposed to launch in 2012.  I hope it does because I think it could be very exciting and inspirational for other museums, including the Smithsonian.

I’ve also been really excited by image recognition software- like that used in the High Museum’s ArtClix app and Google Goggles.  I think it is a really nice, organic integration in to the “normal” mobile behavior of people.  It doesn’t ask them to change how they typically use their mobile devices – instead it uses that behavior to enhance their museum experience.

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year (or have something coming up soon) that you are especially proud of/ excited about?

Nancy: I think the most exciting thing we have done recently is the Access American Stories App. In essence what we did here was to crowd-source a museum guide. Through the app visitors are encouraged to participate by describing their experience within the exhibit or by describing the objects on display. The app allows visitors to respond to a comment in the app left by someone else or simply listen to comments left by other people (staff and/or visitors).  Visitors can also “vote up” favorites so they get priority in the play list for other listeners.

With this app we tackled one of our biggest challenges, which is, “How do you make 136 million objects accessible to visitors with low-vision?” But  the thing I love about it, is that it doesn’t just solve the problem we set out to tackle, it actually goes above and beyond that and creates content that is fascinating to all of our visitors.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

eBooks and the Kindle app. I can do so much more reading on the go without hauling lots of paper around!  My other digital indispensables include podcasts (totally addicted to that medium), my iPhone and Google Docs!

TourSphere: Apple or Android (or other)?

It depends on the project, the target audience and the context.  I think Mobile Web continues to be very important.  To me it is really like asking “flat-head or phillips-head” both are necessary – it just depends on what the job is.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Collaboration… around data.  We’ve been talking about data for a few years now.  We’ve been preparing it and I think we are laying the groundwork so that we can start using that data.  Projects like Google Art and Art Babble shows us that the sum is greater than the individual parts.  And its not just about the museums – it’s about collaboration with the audiences as well.

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Remembering our mission.  Keeping sight of it and working towards it.  Whenever you see a museum in trouble and you trace it back – it tends to go back to losing sight of their mission.  Reasonable minds can differ on the way to get there but if we are all in the same boat headed in the same direction with the same end goal in mind, we can get there.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you’d like to wax philosophical about or rant about?

The last rant I had was at the MuseumNext Conference and that presentation can be accessed here.  What I am really concerned about is the way that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. It’s a particular problem for museum technologists and I put it down to confusing radical change (where you fundamentally restructure the organization and the way it works) with revolutionary change (incremental improvements in economies and efficiencies via new tools and processes).   The danger in this is that it can discredit the museum technologist who promises major change if the organization just does “this” or adopts that new platform or tool, e.g. “If we could just have an app…” and When they do “that” and the major revolution doesn’t come, it’s usually because a perhaps (easier) revolutionary change is being expected to create a radical difference in the organization (much harder). Revolutions will keep coming but they just put people with new faces into the familiar old seats of power: “The King is dead, long live the King!”

Truly radical change, by contrast, has the potential to completely restructure the systems of power and relations in our organizations. If we want real change in museums, that’s where we need to focus our efforts (though we should also engage in some revolutionary activity from time to time!).

I think we all need to get better about asking some honest questions: Is this something that is superficial or is it a deep radical change?  Do we need to approach it differently – with less heroics and more collaboration?  How will this truly impact everyone – not just our little corner of the museum community?

Thanks for taking the time to share your incredible thoughts and inspirations with us, Nancy!  Keep up with Nancy and her insights at:

@NancyProctor
http://museummobile.info/

Getting Young Adults into Art Museums

17 Apr

Jennifer M. DePrizio is the Director of Visitor Learning at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA.  We recently sat down with her to chat about a question we get all of the time, “How can we get more young people through our doors and engaged at a deeper level?” Jennifer was kind enough to share her thoughts with us in the guest post below.

As the Director of Visitor Learning at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum I spend my days thinking about how we can help visitors of all ages connect with works of art in ways that are meaningful and long lasting. For those unfamiliar with the Gardner Museum, it is an imaginative recreation of an Italian palace filled with art collected and installed by Isabella Gardner in the early 20th century. The galleries, which I should mention do not have traditional wall labels and the arrangement of the objects has not been changed per the founder’s wishes, surround a lush courtyard filled with plants, flowers and ancient works of art. This past January, we opened a new Renzo Piano-designed addition that allows for more engagement with art in our studio space, a welcome space called the Living Room, special exhibition gallery, concert and lecture hall, and greenhouse classroom. How do I make this beautiful, intriguing, sometimes puzzling place accessible to our visitors?

Image courtesy Nic Lehoux 2012

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's new Renzo Piano-designed addition. 

I’m not the only one thinking about this question. There is a lot of conversation in the museum field these days about how to engage audiences, especially young adults in their 20s and 30s. Some consider this age demographic a tough nut to crack, but I would argue it’s not so complicated. Yes, it may mean stepping outside one’s comfort zone, which traditionally museums are not so adept at, but with a little courage and willingness to take a risk, the results can be extraordinary.

This was definitely the case in 2007 when the museum launched “Gardner After Hours” with support of the Wallace Foundation. While I was not the mastermind behind the program (that credit goes to my colleague and friend Julie Crites), I was part of the core team involved in planning and execution. After Hours, which continues on the third Thursday of each month, is an evening of art, socializing, and music designed to attract those supposedly elusive 20-and-30-somethings. At its roots, After Hours is about participation and engagement; it’s about making the Gardner Museum accessible to young adults who want both a social and an art experience. As a staff member, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work on this program; I’ve been allowed to be creative, to think outside the box, to experiment, to fail, to try again and succeed.

To that end, I’ll share some of the insights about planning programming for young adult audiences that I have gained from working on After Hours. While these ideas may seem obvious, we can sometimes overlook the things that are right in front of us.

Image courtesy Clements and Howcroft 2009

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Courtyard 

1. Be authentic
Whatever you do for whatever audience, it needs to be true to who you are as an institution. For the Gardner, that meant the unique experience of the museum had to be our starting point. The collection, its unique installation, and the passions of Isabella Gardner are at the heart of what we do. I think of the museum as a salon atmosphere where curious visitors with varying degrees of art knowledge engage in conversation about art. The open-ended approach we take in our gallery games (yes, you can play games in a museum), discussions and art making projects reflect the idea that there isn’t one right answer to a work of art and that each visitor can experience art from their own perspective. If the Gardner was a different kind of museum, a white-walled gallery space or a living history museum, while our programming would have been different, our approach would have been the same. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to be who you are.

2. Meet people where they are
Listen to your audience; they have a lot to say. Their insights and questions can inform and improve your approach and will ultimately make your program relevant and visitor-centric. To truly be accessible, you need to understand who you are serving. As part of After Hours we’ve conducted short onsite surveys during the programs, as well as a more extensive qualitative study with the target demographic which was instrumental in future program planning. Our visitors want to talk to us about their interests; I bet yours do, too.

Image courtesy Lisa Abitbol 2012

Attendees to Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's "After Hours" event.

 

3. People want to meet people
One of the surprising things we discovered by talking to our visitors was that they wanted us to provide ways for them to start conversations with other visitors. I admit at first we scoffed at this—Really? We have to help people mingle? But on further thought we realized that of course, people want to meet others with similar interests and if we can help break the ice, why not? So, our thematic handout for a self-guided gallery tour has transformed into interactive gallery games. Visitors have to talk with museum volunteers and other visitors to successfully complete each game. The games are a huge hit and while I don’t think of After Hours as a singles event, we do observe groups of strangers meeting and chatting.

4. Use your resources wisely
One of the key aspects of this program’s success is that the museum’s leadership empowered staff in the target demographic to plan and execute this event. This also extends to the volunteers recruited to work these evenings. We want our audience to see themselves reflected in the staff and volunteers they encounter throughout the evening.

Illustration and design by Daniel Zeizeij

The right kind of marketing is also essential to the success of a new program like this. The museum commissioned Danijel Zezelj, one of the museum’s artists-in-residence, to create a signature image. These compelling and provocative images signaled that After Hours was new and different. We also went a bit non-traditional (for museums) in our media strategy with a heavy social media push, a mobile texting campaign, street teams handing out posters and media partnership with the local alternative newspaper rather than the mainstream daily. Directing marketing resources in new and experimental ways has paid off.

Image courtesy Lisa Abitbol 2012

Guests at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's "After Hours" event.

5. Don’t take yourself so seriously
We say that After Hours is “more than just a party.” This acknowledges that the event is a social one—there is a cash bar and lots of spots for relaxing and chatting with friends or a date—and that’s an important part of the evening. Museums can and should be a place where people come to unwind and escape. In a social setting, we know formal talks and tours aren’t the right thing, so instead we offer short facilitated gallery discussions and interactive games that not only provide museum content but encourage participation and conversation. Learning happens when you are engaged and making connections. Dare I say it? Learning never looked so fun.

Gardner After Hours happens every third Thursday, 5-9pm. If you’re in Boston I hope you’ll stop by soon and experience for yourself a new kind of night at the museum—its magical, its fun and its educational!

Thanks to Jennifer for this awesome post. Do you have interesting ways to attract young adults? What has worked… and what hasn’t? Please share your ideas and experiences!

Jasper Visser on how Museums Can Stay Relevant and Become Game-Changers

11 Apr

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world. 

Name: Jasper Visser

Jasper is a digital strategist, cultural innovator, blogger & co-founder of the strategy start-up Inspired by Coffee.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest in 2011?

Jasper: 2011 brought a couple of surprises, I think it was a good year for culture and museums. In my own country, in Amsterdam, the photography museum Foam had an amazing exposition for their 10-year anniversary. Rather than looking back at those 10 years, they looked into the future of photography, museums and culture in general. The thing that struck me most was an amazing installation by Erik Kessels, who had printed out 1 million photos from social networks and put them, literally in piles, in a couple of rooms. Mind-blowing to see how much we share online nowadays, and the stories you can tell with this material. Earlier in 2011 Foam had an exposition specifically aimed at this, by Willem Populier, that showed the lives in photos and tweets of two teenage girls, without them knowing, by collecting everything they put online. An amazing experiment in privacy, social networking and art.

(See also)

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Jasper: Without a doubt this must have been Ron Arad’s Curtain Call in the Roundhouse in London (although I don’t know if a theatre counts as a museum). Immersive, genuine 3D projection that still felt very intimate. I’ve been promoting its transfer to Holland ever since I spent 2 hours marveling at its beauty. Google it to see what it’s like.

A good runner-up is the National Museum of Jewish American History in Philadelphia which I could finally visit this year. The interactives are designed by the amazing people at Local Projects (New York) and they do the trick. A must-see if you’re talking about engagement, participation and technology, in my opinion.

(See LP’s portfolio)

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Jasper: For me, I guess 2011 was the year I discovered the true potential of location-based services. At the beginning of the year I did a highly-successful experiment with Foursquare, and later in the year we launched xwashier, our own mobile app which was a huge hit.

I think location based technology offers a lot of new opportunities to tell engaging and meaningful stories about collections, communities, cities, etc. I see quite some cool start-ups working with this technology and I think the best is still to come.

TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Jasper: Hahhahhah, Apple, of course.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Jasper: Consolidation. (A lot of the different projects we’ve done, experiments we’ve run and loose ends we’ve created will be combined, hopefully, into integrated strategies. Playtime’s over, now it’s time to really reach new target groups, truly engage with our audience, be successful.)

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Jasper: I think the biggest challenge for museums, as for any organisation, in the coming years is to stay relevant to people in our changing world. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, and at the heights of the social media and web 2.0 revolution, the changes in the way we do business in culture (and elsewhere) that have become apparent in the past 10 years have gained enough momentum to become real game-changers in the coming years. Are you still with me? It means that unless we really make fundamental changes in the way we work, we will become irrelevant.

Fortunately, the solution to this challenge is becoming clearer all the time as well. We have to build sustainable and meaningful relationships with our audiences, via new and traditional media, our projects and campaigns and our buildings. We have to implement the new business models that are being discovered for the 21st century. And, most importantly, we have to become innovative institutions at the heart of society, not conservative bastions at the outskirts.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Jasper.  Can’t wait to see more from Inspired by Coffee.

Follow Jasper and his work at:

Twitter:@jaspervisser

Blog:Museum of the Future

Bringing Stories to Life makes Ed Rodley Happy to be Alive

23 Mar

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Ed Rodley

Exhibit Developer @ Museum of Science, Boston

Ed was born, went to school, started working at a museum. He’s still at it and is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Ed: I wish I’d gotten down to see Infinite Variety in New York during the week it was up. The pictures of the Armory full of towering cylinders and curves of red and white quilts took my breath away. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like to be in the space. Degas and the Nude @ MFA was the best exhibition I actually saw in 2011. It combined great art with a compelling narrative, deep curatorial knowledge, and the mobile tour that went with the show was impressive. It was the best, most seamless blending of mobile with physical I’ve seen.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Ed: I don’t tend to think that way, which is a bit ironic given my position and institution, but there you have it. The exhibits I’ve seen this year that have made me go “Wow…” have almost always incorporated computational power in ways that aren’t obvious. Like my colleague who has made a MIDI-controlled Tesla coil that plays creepy loud music. It’s a computer exhibit, but the computer is just a tool to get the job done.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Ed: Twitter has been a major part of my professional workflow for years, and I continue to be amazed at how central it has become. I use it to search for information, communicate with colleagues around the world, trend spot. It’s a godsend. This year in particular I have been loving my productivity apps like Evernote and Dropbox. Keeping my files accessible across multiple machines and OSs is vital to me.

TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Ed: I own an iPhone, but I’m rooting for HTML 5 and responsive web design to throw a wrench into the Apple/Android shouting match. Given the success of sites like http://www.bostonglobe.com and others to deliver really rich mobile experiences, I think 2012 is going to be an interesting year.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Ed: Relevance.

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Ed: Making the case for museums in the 21st century. What can we contribute to society in the 21st century that makes us worth supporting?

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?

Ed: Heh. That’s why I blog, to get out all the ranting and raving in more socially valuable ways. I am a story teller, and anything that involves bringing stories to life makes me happy to be alive. Weaving objects and experiences into narratives that visitors can construct for themselves as they go along gives me a thrill, every time.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Ed!  Keep up with Ed and his insights at:

Twitter:@erodley
Site: Thinking About Exhibits
If you’re in the Boston area keep an eye out for Ed’s “Drinking About Museums” events.  They’re wicked fun!

The Perfect Storm for Exciting Work: The Ted Forbes Interview

23 Feb

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Ted Forbes

Multimedia Producer at the Dallas Museum of Art

Ted Forbes is a designer, multi-media producer, photographer and film director.
Ted is currently the Multimedia Producer for the Dallas Museum of Art where his duties include production of interactive and digital content including exhibition Web sites, teaching materials, in-gallery interactive content (kiosks and touch screens), and video production.

Ted has been an adjunct faculty member at Brookhaven College since 2003 teaching interactive and Web design. He was recognized in the 2005 Dallas Show with two gold light bulbs including an unanimous best in show. Ted served on the Board of Directors for the Dallas Society of Visual Communications from 2001-2006.

 

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Ted: I was in London last November and got to see Gerhard Richter at TATE Modern. In a word it was sublime. Always been a fan of Richter’s work and this was a beautiful retrospective. TATE Media always produce such wonderful work. The media aspect was fairly simple but there were some incredible behind the scenes pieces that were filmed. Not only were they well done, but it was interesting how popular the video piece was with visitors. I sat in the coffee bar for an hour after seeing the exhibition and I don’t think there was a moment where there wasn’t a crowd gathered around.

 

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Ted: It’s not used yet, but Rob Stein and the IMA staff’s initiative for the TourML specification is one of the most significant projects I’ve seen. Not only does it share resources across the participating museums, but the project is going to yield an important tool that will make an impact on mobile tours in the near future. Museums have never owned their own standards and this is a uniting move for both museums and vendors. This will give us a platform for tour creation and sharing which will allow for some beautiful work produced by and for museums.

 

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year (or have something coming soon) that you’re proud of?

Ted: This past year there were 2 major initiatives. For the first time we produced a TV spot based on a concept from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for our Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition as well as several other video pieces that I feel were a large triumph for our institution. This work was not only a big deal in terms of financial saving, but it was work I am very proud of. Gaultier is a complete ham and was easy to film. Of course this type of exhibition allowed us to push limits not only on the exhibition, but how we chose to market it. We reacted well to both the situation and to the limiting budget restraints.

The second project involved launching 50 new stops to our Permanent Collection for the mobile tours. It was important for us to spend our time creating works that live longer than the standard exhibition time. They are also important interpretive pieces for the objects in our collection. Again we were fairly agile producing everything in house with a limited staff. About 106 audio and video assets were produced over a period of about 4 months.

With the recent addition of Maxwell Anderson as our new director at the Dallas Museum of Art, it is an exciting time for sure. I’ve been a big fan of the work coming out of the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the last few years and I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to work for Max. We’ve already begun setting up our own Museum Dashboard building on what the IMA broke ground with back in 2007. Its a little early to say what we have next in the works, but I will say I’m excited to get to work every morning.

 

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Ted: Oh my – there’s a ton of desktop and iOS apps that are part of my everyday routine. I’m a big GTD [Getting Things Done] guy and rely heavily on OmniFocus and syncing over DropBox. Alfred came along and has begun to fill the void left by Quicksilver. I still rely on TextMate for coding. For media production there are a lot of new apps I’ve been using that are incredible. T-Racks from IK Multimedia is my new mastering app for audio production. I’m actually a big fan of the new Final Cut Pro X. Scrivener is a wonderful app for writing projects. The cameras that have been coming out over the last 2 years are a real God-send for folks who have to film in dark museum galleries. The low light performance on digital cameras is better than ever – not to mention the price point. I’ve got a Canon HF G10 that I can’t put down. Its saved me a ton of time fooling around working in spaces that I can’t control the lighting in.

Its a great time to be in technology.

 

TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Ted: Since I’m usually testing web apps I have to say both. But I’m an Apple nerd if I’ve got a choice. Like the desktop, its the quality and selection of third party apps that keep me on a Mac most of the day.

 

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Ted: I really have no idea how to predict that. In the last few years I’ve seen the community become stronger than I’ve ever seen it. I’ve also seen the quality and pricing of technology come down to a point where I really believe this gives all museums an advantage which is timely given the current economic climate. I think we are about to get into a very exciting time. The technology is accessible and the awareness of concepts like "participation" and "transparency" are becoming regular discussions. I think this is the perfect storm for exciting work.

 

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Ted: Keeping faith. Financial times are tough these days. Budget cuts, furloughs, tabled ideas, layoffs – these are all common things to hear – particularly in non-profits. As excited as I am about where we are with technology, I have many colleagues are meeting roadblocks due to economic factors. The challenge is realizing there is a community and successful institutions have to become more self sufficient. Its important to stay focused and find new ways of doing things. You don’t always need a grant to make something happen. You do need determination, institutional support (which can be hard sometimes) and a passion to want to make things succeed.

The commercial world finds ways to change and find new ways to do things. There’s no reason why the non-profit world can’t do this too.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?

Ted: I can rant all day, but what I’m really interested in is what other people are saying. Its a great time to take things in, collaborate and learn!

Thanks for sharing, Ted! Your enthusiasm is contagious. Follow Ted and his work at:

Twitter: @tedforbes
Site: tedforbes.com

7 Questions with Beck Tench

8 Feb

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Beck Tench

Director for Innovation and Digital Engagement, Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC

Beck Tench is a simplifier, illustrator, story teller and technologist. Formally trained as a graphics designer at the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, she has spent her career elbow deep in web work of all sorts – from the knowledge work of information architecture and design to the hands dirty work of writing code and testing user experiences.

Currently, she serves as Director for Innovation and Digital Engagement at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC where she studies and experiments with how visitors and staff use technology to experience risk-taking, community-making and science in their everyday lives.

Beck is currently working on creating Experimonths about sharing, cooperation, negotiation and trust in partnership with my museum and the Exploratorium for a NSF-funded project called The Science of Sharing.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Beck: My visit to AVAM (American Visionary Art Museum) in February with the Matt Groening co-curated exhibit on “What Makes Us Smile?” wins the prize. The whole place is spectacular, but the experience I keep returning to is one of me sitting on a bench watching videos of people right after their photo had been taken.  Just a series of people transitioning from smile to frown and moving away from whomever they’d just put their arm around.

It was funny and sad and took me on a path that started with my own relationships, wound its way through sociology and evolutionary biology and found its way back to me again.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Beck: Jer Thorp’s use of Processing.org to map all of the names of 9/11 victims on the 9/11 Museum memorial fountains blew my mind.  He created an algorithm that solved several complex problems (some environmental, like the shifting of expansion joints, and some conceptual, like placing victims names near those they knew and died alongside). More about it here.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Beck: There are a ton, always. I’ve found Balsamiq Mockups to be a wonderful tool for creating very quick, sketch-like wireframes to get an idea across without investing too much software time into the communication of it.

I’ve also enjoyed Google Plus Hangouts for multi-participant video conferencing, be it for “virtual beers” with far away colleagues or for more legitimate meeting purposes.

As for time management, the Pomodoro Technique was new to me this year and has changed the way I prioritize my time and estimate the work required to complete things (when I muster up the discipline to do it, that is).

Notational Velocity is an old friend, but I want to mention it as a technology that I love the more I use it and consistently makes my work life easier.  I’m composing the answers to these questions in it right now.

Honorable mention for Teuxdeux.com, WriteRoom (especially when combined with QuickCursor), and Marked, which is a handy tool for using MarkDown in any application.

TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Beck: Apple products tend to make decisions for me in a way that doesn’t feel compromising — my cognitive load is lighter, my canvas unencumbered.  I am a total fan grrrl.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Beck: Self-Hosted.

Those of us who were all about third-party sites and tools to get up and running quickly have been burned once or twice and we’re seeing that part of our role as museums (and libraries) may be to preserve the social interaction and content we’re generating in our communities. Not that the pendulum will stay here forever…

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Beck: Finding and keeping smart people. As a field, we need to define ourselves as a space for creatives to have freedom, space and insanely interesting content.  Museum leaders can do that by creating space for their staff to work on passion projects and take risks — something like the Google 20% time policy.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?

Beck: I’m passionate about understanding how we learn.  I find myself often torn between the physical, materials-based, social environment of our museum and the opportunities afforded to us by technology. There’s just so much we don’t know.  Should we take advantage of the “moths to a glowing screen” effect because it affords us attention?

How are we compromising the privacy of our visitors with our participation in social networking sites? Can we find a reliable way to use the Internet to get people off the Internet?  What’s the line between providing an awesome experience and relinquishing control to a burgeoning community? How do we measure learning in an online informal learning environment?

Basically: What role does technology play in the often frustrating, but crazy awesome and important process of learning something new? We’re trying really hard and have some ideas, but are still far away from having answers.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and all of your productivity apps) with us, Beck! Follow Beck and her work at:

Twitter: @10ch
Blog: useum

8 Questions with Peter Samis

12 Jan

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world. 

Peter Samis
Associate Curator, Interpretation
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

In 1993, Peter served as art historian/content expert for the first CD-ROM on modern art, and then spearheaded the first implementation of multimedia PDAs in an art museum for SFMOMA’s 2002 Points of Departure exhibition. He has served on the board of the New Media Consortium (www.nmc.org), as adjunct professor at the University of Lugano, and on the governing councils of two museum-focused collaborative initiatives: Pachyderm 2.0 (www.pachyderm.org) and ArtBabble (www.artbabble.org). He has recently received a Kress grant to research best practices in museum interpretation–both analog and digital.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Samis: “Death Matters” at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. A visually arresting cross-cultural presentation of rituals, objects, and meaning-making about end of life (and after). It included a riveting set of large scale B&W portraits of individuals before and after their death by Walter Schels and Beate Lakotta, video of a “sky burial” in Tibet, folk coffins shaped like limos, and an array of Bill Viola-like portrait format plasma displays which, when touched, spoke to you casually about various spiritual traditions’ understanding of the afterlife.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Samis: Quite possibly the self-portraiture station at the Oakland Museum of California. Situated in the gallery alongside a wall of portraits from the collection, many of them historic, it enables the visitor to sit down, look in a gridded mirror and use his or her finger on a touchscreen to make a self-portrait. You can also look through a gallery of self-portraits—many of them quite accomplished—made by those who visited before you, and if you like you can see any of them re-constructed stroke by stroke. Finally, a rotating array of these visitor-made portraits is included among the painted and drawn collection works in two cleverly disguised frames on the wall beside you.

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year (or have something coming soon) that you’re proud of?

Samis: We presented mobile interpretation for the vast majority of shows in 2011 on all floors. We also contracted with an outside vendor to provide devices and distribution for a major blockbuster show, The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant Garde. We would never have been able to meet public demand with our small, 200-iPod Touch fleet and our usual distribution staff.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things – or made your job easier this year?

Samis: Scrivener. I’m writing a book on best practices in museum interpretation and Scrivener allows me to create the outline and fill it in progressively with notes, essays, word docs, images and links, then re-arrange the parts as I would a mind map.

TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Samis: For myself, Apple. For the public, both. Web app, anyone?

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Samis: Participation. Engagement. (I know that’s two.)

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Samis: Connecting an increasingly speedy media culture with the stillness of objects.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you’d like to wax philosophical about or rant about?

Samis: Finding intelligent ways to democratize meaning-making. The fear of “dumbing down” squelches many visitor-focused initiatives. (We also have a fear of large, readable type. And a fear of looking something less than hyper-intelligent. We have so many fears…)

Thanks, Peter! You’re the man. Follow Peter and his work at the SFMOMA at:
@psamis
@SFMOMA
http://www.sfmoma.org/explore

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