Tag Archives: technology

Beyond Digital: Open Collections & Cultural Institutions

This past June, I participated in a two-week workshop at Harvard University’s metaLAB called Beautiful Data: Telling Stories with Open Collections. Thanks to a grant from the Getty Foundation, the metaLAB brought together over twenty curators, technologists, educators, and scholars to grapple with how we might use publicly available data from museum collections in our work. In the first week, speakers as varied as digital museum specialists to experience designers to scientists who study vision all pressed us to think of our work in unexpected contexts. In the second week, we took what we’d discussed and applied them to projects of our own.

Over the past four months, I’ve let the ideas and theories of Beautiful Data percolate in my visitor-centered soul, and I’ve come to realize this: although open collections is a movement born in the digital realm, I believe its principles are essential to how a 21st-century cultural institution can reach visitors today—whether virtual, physical, or personal.

What are Open Collections?

“Open collections” is a museum technology term that refers to a museum (or more appropriately, a GLAM—gallery, library, archive, or museum) “opening” all of collections data for anyone to freely use, reuse, or distribute it. In this context, data refers not only to an image of an artwork in a collection, for example, but all of an object’s “metadata” or supporting information, such as artist, time of creation, subject matter, size, medium, and so on. If the collection of your museum is digitally open, you release an API (application programming interface) that allows programmers to easily pull that data into lots of different contexts, such as websites or apps. The idea, according to the OpenGLAM movement, is that it allows “users not only to enjoy the riches of the world’s memory institutions, but also to contribute, participate and share.” (For a more in-depth explanation of museum APIs, check out this blog post from the SFMOMA Lab.)

Metadata sounds like tombstone information—in other words, that basic information that lives on a museum label, and on its own, might not necessarily be that compelling. The magic of open collections data, though, is that through technology, all those individual bits of information can be packaged together and unpacked, visualized and disseminated in different ways. In short, like many of our most successful museum education programs, the cool stuff happens when you release it into the wild and let people play.

Perhaps the most famous example of a museum opening up its collection is the Rijksmuseum, which in 2011 published an API and allowed free access to high-quality images of its artworks. But most stunningly, it not only allowed, but loudly encouraged anyone who wanted to create new interpretations of those artworks, from coffee cups to clothing. They even hosted a contest on the huge handmade marketplace website Etsy.

Another great example is by Florian Kräutli, one of my fellow Beautiful Data participants, who took Tate’s open collections data and visualized it—noticing that over half its collection is by J. M. W. Turner, prompting him into a rabbit hole of discovery into exactly why that is (you can read his blog post on the project to find out more). Museums are supporting this type of play in-house, too: the Cooper-Hewitt team has a treasure trove of ways they’ve used their collections data on their blog, including a search-by-color tool and “Robot Rothko” (which is just as awesome as it sounds). As his final project, Beautiful Data participant Richard Barrett-Small, formerly of Tate, built on the Cooper-Hewitt’s color tool to create Colour Lens, a color visualization explorer for multiple museum collections.

In short, the big idea here is that open collections allow cultural institutions to complete their educational missions: not only showing our objects to as many people as possible (no matter where they are in the world—thanks, internet!), but giving people ownership of our collections and spaces by welcoming them to engage in any way they can dream up.

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Investigating Transformative Experiences with Art

Let’s turn back to my personal experience at Beautiful Data. It’s rare that museum staff are ever able to think about the what ifs and why nots, to set aside time to imagine, play, and prototype. Happily, at Beautiful Data, we had two full weeks to do exactly that.

As a visitor-centered museum educator, I think a lot about the humans experiencing our institutions. As a visitor-centered museum technologist, I think about people too, albeit those in the ether of the web—no less real than my students, though often more anonymous. At Beautiful Data, though, we went extremely big-picture—this meant discussions of data visualizations (graphical ways to show stories about data), institutional collecting patterns and preferences, and thinking about how not just staff but organizations could collaborate together through comparing and sharing their collections data.

To be honest, this sometimes frustrated me. As one of two educators in the group, I was always asking, “but what about the people who will actually use this information?” That question was certainly on the minds of other participants, but I came to realize that “users” could just as often mean internal staff members as external visitors.

With all this in mind, for my Beautiful Data final project, I decided to tackle an idea that has been a seed in my work for some time: amassing stories or personal connections with works of art from museum visitors, and seeing what patterns I could find about how people interact with collections. I posted a survey asking people to share their “transformative experiences with works of art,” and waited to see what I’d get.

I was struck by the stories I received. Regardless of length or whether the respondent was a museum professional or a scientist, even if they had only seen the work one time, each story was full of heart—beautiful, nostalgic, sometimes wrenching connections between a work of art and the person’s own life.

Despite a week blissfully surrounded by all things nerdy-tech (read: 3D printers, APIs, and Lytro cameras), instead of building a minimal website or massaging the words into data, I instead was compelled to handwrite key phrases on paper, print out full responses and images of their chosen piece, and pin them to a wall. My project quickly turned into a completely physical installation: a purposefully unscientific data visualization of the responses people had submitted.

Documentary photos of my installation can be seen through the photo gallery below, or you can visit my album on Flickr.

Some stories were long, others just a handful of cryptic sentences. Some had art historical, factual descriptions backing up their thoughts; others never looked up a single extra bit of information about the artwork after they saw it. Some ruminated on the object for many years; others were hit in the gut all of a sudden upon turning a corner.

For all that, every single story had two things in common. In each, there was a deeply personal reason behind the individual’s connection to the artwork, and each was written in a tone of reverence—towards the power of these images to arrest a person, to stir up unexpected thoughts or feelings, to stick in their mind for years and years afterward.

Open Collections—Beyond the Digital

When my teen program started up again this fall, I brought my students into the Milwaukee Art Museum galleries to look at a single work of art for an hour (you can read more about this process here.) As usual, I noticed the high schoolers opening up to each other, to new ideas, and to finding ways that art relates to their everyday life—whether a photograph of Milwaukee or a landscape by a Baroque Italian painter. These discussions are guided by the students—I might throw in some useful facts to open up the conversation, but they take the lead. As a result, on any given day, we might relate artworks to religion, politics, narratives, families and friends, or even moods and feelings.

During these sessions, the teens are given permission to engage with these objects in a manner entirely new to them: instead of the 7-second “drive by” glance, they’re encouraged to bring their own opinions, thoughts, and questions to these artworks.

This fall, as I watched the students unfold these pieces and their own thoughts every week, and as I thought about my own project at Beautiful Data, I started to realize how intimately connected my discussion-based teaching style and experience-based project are to the big ideas behind the open collections movement.

In the realm of digital, opening collections data and encouraging people to play with it allows for deeper engagement in and participation with our collections. For my teen programs, which take place physically in the museum, the same goal holds—for my students to feel comfortable engaging with and connecting with the collection. For my Beautiful Data project about transformative experiences with works of art, each respondent was open to having an experience with a work of art that turned out to be intimate and meaningful.

Too often in the museum field, we become siloed. The cross-pollinated conversations and projects at Beautiful Data with folks from many different museum departments helped me see that most of the time, we’re all saying the same thing.

We all want our collections to be open to the public. We all want to give visitors opportunities to engage with objects. All that said, the devil’s in the details, as they say, and, as I learned from fellow participants at Beautiful Data, “openness” might mean different things in different contexts, or to different people within our institutions. For a museum technologist who’s part of the OpenGLAM movement, it might mean creating an API for her institution’s collection. For a curator, it might mean presenting art with minimal labels to allow visitors to bring their own thoughts to the work. For an educator, it might mean hosting a monthly “slow art” day, facilitating a one hour conversation about a single work of art. For a visitor, it might mean taking a selfie with a work of art to share with friends on Instagram—or perhaps having a life-changing, transformative moment with an object—or maybe exploring the collection online even though they live halfway around the world from the institution itself.

If we’re all saying the same thing, then why does it sometimes seem like we’re not on the same page? It might be because we’re speaking slightly different languages (after all, our departments borrow from our content areas—whether technology terms, art history/academic jargon, or educator-ese). It might be because when we are speaking together, we’re only hearing what we want to hear instead of what the other person is actually saying. It might be because we’re not taking time to speak to each other at all.

I can tell you firsthand with Beautiful Data under my belt that it’s worth it to step outside the comfort zone of our own department. Internally, let’s challenge ourselves to learn new vocabulary and have discussions with others outside of our own departments. That way, our principles and beliefs can start to be shared among staff in different areas. When we speak the same language internally, we’ll have the power to push our institutions into a new paradigm, as Jay Rounds discusses in a recent article on Museum Questions, or as Mike Murawski suggests in his article about museums embracing a “digital mindset.”

And externally? Open collections, at its core, is about access to our institutions—whether digitally through collection APIs, physically through innovative programming in our galleries, or personally through highlighting the stories of people who have had powerful experiences with objects. Opening access in this way can be scary, because it can sometimes mean giving up some control, such as rights, an authoritative institutional voice, or even the context and purpose of looking at artwork. But those risky moments are also when great change has the potential to occur. If we want our collections to be relevant and meaningful in the 21st century, we must be brave enough to open up our doors—physically and virtually—to support, encourage, and celebrate the profound and magical experiences with art that happen next, whatever they might be.

Looking Up, Looking Down: Designing Mobile Interpretation that Engages with Art

Written by Rebecca Friday

When the Clark Art Institute reopened its doors this summer, visitors were greeted by an astounding new building by architect Tadao Ando, expansive views of the rolling hills of Williamstown, Massachusetts, and beautifully redesigned galleries for the museum’s extensive permanent collection. With this renovation and expansion, we faced the challenge of how to encourage visitors to engage with the art in new and inspiring ways. Previously, the museum had been renting audio wands; however, these were limited to a single layer of audio and had no screen option. Thus, a new interactive interpretive system was needed to accommodate deeper layers of exploration and engagement with the collection.

Through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the nostalgic audio wands have been replaced by mini iPads, which we call multimedia guides – although they are so much more than that. The multimedia guide currently has 150 objects from our permanent collection, each with a zoomable image, basic information, label, and audio (along with audio transcript). Many of the objects also give the visitor the option to explore the artwork further with varied layers of content. The multimedia guide is free with museum admission or visitors can also download a streamlined version onto their personal device. The guides also include information about the Institute’s founders, Sterling and Francine Clark, special exhibitions, and a grounds map.

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This interpretative project was several years in the making. Over the past two years I have worked closely with Media Manager Laurie Glover and Project Manager Viktorya Vilk to develop a system that embraced the mission of the Clark and its dedication “to advancing and extending the public understanding of art.” Central to our approach was the importance of looking at art — we did not want to detract from the importance of this practice, nor replace it with gazing at a screen. Instead, we found ways that would enhance the looking experience and point out things that visitor could not have learned otherwise. In many ways, we were inspired to the Van Gogh museum’s recent app, Touch Van Gogh, which allows audiences to examine the painterly process up close in ways never before possible.

So, how to accomplish these things?

To tackle this bold mission of active looking and learning, our process included months of brainstorming with the Clark curators and educators to decide which works of art would benefit most from additional content. We asked them what stories they liked to tell about the art, what questions they were most often asked, what special thing no one knew. From these stories, we slowly whittled down our extensive list to 150 objects and designated about half of them for additional content. Each of these objects would have no more than three or four sections of content. The content is layered, so there was an option to go deeper if there is interest but we did not want anyone to feel bogged down by the amount of content. We wanted to maintain choice in the pace the information is provided, the depth of knowledge one might be seeking, as well as a direct search for a particular artwork versus a more casual browsing of the collection.

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We endeavored to create content that most enhances the visitors’ understanding of the artwork – when it can make the invisible visible and inspire curiosity for deeper learning. We found conservation stories from X-rays that unearthed hidden secrets. We found collection stories from the diary pages of our founder. We also worked with Tristan Interactive to build a semi-customized content management system and develop three kinds of interactive within the application. These include:

1) Drag and Drop: This interactive works sort of like a puzzle, in which small details from the artwork can be matched to the larger whole to reveal interesting details. This works particularly well for very detailed paintings because it encourages the viewer to look back up at the actual painting to find the detail in front of them.

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2) Slider: By sliding your finger along a scrub bar the image changes to tell a story or transform an image. For example, this feature works well with our Domenico Ghirlandaio painting, Portrait of a Lady. The transformation shows the painting pre-conservation, when the painting was altered with the addition of a halo and wheel identify the sitter (mistakenly) as Saint Catherine. One of the things that was most important was developing functionalities that could be adapted in various ways: for example, the slider could move something in space, reveal a hidden layer, or move through a narrative.

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3) Hotspots: Pulsing circles appear on different part of the image – when tapped, screen pops up to reveal more information about this part of the work.

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After our initial beta-build of the device we invited 80 volunteers and docents to act as a sort of focus group. We handed out the multimedia guides with a survey/set of instructions to help guide each individual through the 20-ish objects we had built into the device. The survey asked each person to the rate the difficulty of these tasks (i.e. “play the audio,” “find the Unpack Me interactive,” etc.). Because our focus group was limited to volunteers and docents, the demographic was mostly 50 years of age or older.

As we expected, there was a lot of initial confusion and outright contempt for the devices; mostly because they were perceived as new and scary. This was not a sample group that felt comfortable with technology or even used an iPhone or iPad on a regular basis. However, the more time we spent explaining their functions, the more they found joy and value in them. The less confusing the process became, the more impressed they were! Given our visitor demographic, it reinforced our commitment that the app be intuitive with lots of onscreen help. We worked with the engineers to create built in “hints” that appear on the tablet screen and encourage/guide the user.

Of course, there will always be visitors who do not want to engage with the tablets when visiting the museum. We worked hard to create something that was user friendly and, hopefully, a seamless transition from the traditional audio wand. We hope that audiences will want to engage with the collection in new and deeper ways through the expanded layers of content. Content that is presented in a variety of ways, with the belief that it will appeal to a variety of users.

As many others in the field have already noted, there is a constant grappling with the pros and cons of bringing technology into the galleries. Although I personally believe in the power of individual, intimate experiences with art, I also strongly value the communal experience that can be cultivated through conversation in front of a work of art. I can see the appeal and value of both experiences and I hope that each visitor is able to travel the path that best accommodates their needs. We chose iPad screens because they are shareable, a single headphone to make the experience less solitary, layers of content to pick and choose from. Interpretation should be available to those that seek it; it should spark curiosity and reveal what makes us love a work of art.

We have recently finished conducting an expansive survey in the Clark galleries, both with visitors who used the multimedia guide, and those who did not, to gauge it’s effectiveness, value, and possible issues that might have arisen with usability. Although we are still waiting for the concrete data, preliminary results indicate that our visitors love the app and love using the iPad minis. They enjoyed using the interactives, sharing tidbits with their family and friends, and listening to the audio components. However, those that did not take the device, often voiced negative comments about it. It seems the negativity is rooted in the unknown – something that is new, possibly complicated, and technological.

As is often the case on ArtMuseumTeaching (and a very valuable case), I’d like to open the floor to all of you. What are your thoughts on the future of technology in museum galleries? What are its positive effects and what are the possible criticisms it faces? Can an iPad screen really enhance a solitary and personal experience with a work of art? Or is that kind of thinking becoming increasingly elitist and limiting to everyday audiences?

About the Author

headshotREBECCA FRIDAY: Rebecca earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Sarah Lawrence College and Master’s Degree from Williams College, both in Art History. She spent the last two years working as a Curatorial Assistant at the Clark Art Institute. In addition to her contributions on the multimedia guide project and interpretation of the reinstallation of the permanent collection, she also served as curatorial coordinator for Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History, Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai, and Radical Words: From Magna Carta to the Constitution. Prior to her position at the Clark, Rebecca worked at the Williams College Museum of Art as well as several New York City art galleries, including Galerie St. Étienne and Robert Miller Gallery. She is currently looking for her next adventure in museum interpretation.  Rebecca tweets at @Fridayfridaygrl. Rebecca’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent the Clark Art Institute’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Press Start to Continue: What Museum Educators Can Learn from Game Design

Over the summer, I helped a group of teens make a mobile game at the Brooklyn Museum.

That’s a pretty innocuous-looking sentence, but it felt like a big, exciting Project of Note.  There were plenty of interesting factors at play: it was my own first foray beyond digital game design into actual game creation; it was a chance to see my home institution’s collections from a new point of view; it was a different kind of programming from my usual roster.  But it’s now almost two months later, and I’m still thinking about it.

Why?  What made it so special?

First, let me give you the basics:

  • This was a program called NYC Haunts, in which teens work together to design and create a location-based game people can play on their mobile devices.
  • It’s run by Global Kids, a great organization that has all kinds of initiatives to help teens become informed citizens of the world.  They’ve run this program in schools and libraries before, and this was the first version done in a museum.
  • NYC Haunts teaches teens the basics of game design and uses TaleBlazer (a free game-design app from MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program) to build the game.  TaleBlazer is a visual programming platform, which means you don’t write the code textually.  Instead, you put it together using click-and-drag building blocks that combine to form commands.
  • The game itself is designed to help a player solve a mystery about local ghosts of the past who may still be lingering around in the present.
Screenshot of the TaleBlazer interface.
Screenshot of the TaleBlazer interface.

In the Brooklyn Museum game, our team of thirteen intrepid teen Ghost Hunters collaborated on a game that invites visitors to explore our Luce Visible Storage Center.  The game is called Helen’s Treasures, and the player must find all the precious items collected by Helen (the ghost protagonist of our game, based on a Chester Beach marble bust), in order to help her remember how she died so her spirit can be at peace.

In-game illustration of Helen by one NYC Haunts Ghost Hunter.
In-game illustration of Helen by one NYC Haunts Ghost Hunter.

This program was an exciting step towards a goal near and dear to my heart: using digital technology to explore museum collections without the technology overwhelming or distracting from the artwork.  And it was a chance to explore the world of game design in museums, which has been on my museum education radar for a while.  (I still love Murder at the Met: An American Art Mystery.  More recently, I’ve been watching as Sophia George, the V&A’s first Games Designer in Residence, develops and releases her art museum-inspired game, Strawberry Thief, into the world.)

A big part of what made it feel so special, though, was the open-hearted, open-ended nature of the whole project and that fact that the teens were building something together from the ground up.  Before we talked at all about the museum-specific side of things, we spent a good chunk of time talking (and iterating) about what makes a game successful and how the game design process works.  We started with the basics, which fed into conversations that started to sound a whole lot like the kind of conversations museum educators have when coming up with programming ideas.

There was debate over how the game should feel to a player and how to create that feeling.  What were the goals of the game going to be and how should they be met?  What did we want our players to get out of their game experience?

Once the game creation itself got underway, I co-facilitated the meetings with Global Kids staff, but we tried to stay out of the way of the process as much as possible.  The teens decided what area of the museum they wanted as the location of their game.  They collaborated on the game’s story.  They worked smoothly as a whole group and then as small groups that focused variously on coding, choosing specific collection objects, creating the in-game visuals, and writing the detailed story players discover as they go.

And what they came up with, after only eight afternoon sessions, was a playable game that made my museum educator heart thump proudly.

It was the teens, not me, who identified that it was important for a player to look closely at art objects to answer the game’s questions.  It was the teens who chose the Visible Storage Center for both the artwork and the atmosphere (it’s cold and dim in there, as well as being full of shelves bursting with miscellaneous, sometimes-mysterious things).  It was the teens who created a cohesive story that brought new meaning to objects in the Museum’s collection.

They told engaging and creative stories, they created an immersive experience, and they made a fun, new way for people to discover an often-unexplored space.

Those sound remarkably like some of my Big Goals as a museum educator.

I’m trying to keep these lessons fresh in my mind as I head into a new school year of programming for teachers.  How can I hang onto that spirit of open exploration?  How can I help teachers see the museum in new ways?  What experiences can I create that are playful and fun and build skills in the museum, all at the same time?

I know there’s plenty of debate about digital games in the museum (should museums collect video games as art?  why is gamification such a dirty word?  what advantages do games have to offer museums, anyway?), and I’d love to hear from others who’ve experimented with games in museums (to resounding success or constructive failure).  I don’t know how much game design I’ll be doing in the future, but I do know I appreciate having tried it out and that it offered plenty of valuable things to keep in mind for my museum programming overall.  So, thanks to the clever Brooklyn Museum Ghost Hunters and to the energetic staff of Global Kids, not to mention the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund who believed in the project enough to give us the money for it.

One final note: If you’d like to playtest the prototype of the Brooklyn Museum NYC Haunts game, you can download TaleBlazer for free (Android or iOS).  Open it on your device and enter gvxkfju in the “Game Code” tab at the top.  Helen’s Treasures will download to your device, and then you’re free to play, even without wifi.

 

Openly Networked Learning In and Across Art Museums

How can museums begin to more closely connect with in-school and out-of-school digital literacy practices, tapping the tools of the digital age as well as the elements of making, connecting, and experimenting that create powerful possibilities for learning?  Can we, as museum educators, begin to see ourselves as designers, and reposition ourselves as active agents of change in today’s education environment?  In what ways can museums be more involved in re-envisioning what education looks like?

These questions, among others, have been sparked by my involvement over the past few years in the research and practice around a social and participatory model of learning called Connected Learning —  as well as my work with an inspiring group of educators within the National Writing Project.  And while art museums have been only tangentially related to this practice (which I blame more on us museum educators and less on NWP), I was fortunate enough to be invited to submit a case study for the latest ebook entitled Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom (published online in February through the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative).  This volume highlights compelling firsthand counter-narratives from educators engaged in solving an array of challenges in today’s classrooms, drawing together a collaborative network of instructors who have been contributing to the NWP’s web community, “Digital Is.”

I wanted to take the opportunity of this volume’s publication to begin writing more about Connected Learning, sharing its principles and exploring more connections with the practice of teaching and learning in museums.  Below is the text of my case study entitled “Openly Networked Learning in and Across Art Museums,” published first in February 2014 as part of the Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom volume.  This short case study examines the aspects of “openly networked” reflective practice in my work as a museum educator and blogger, pushing forward the concept of museums as spaces where communities of learners can connect, intersect, make, collaborate, and share.  I encourage anyone unfamiliar with Connected Learning to learn more by visiting connectedlearning.tv or downloading the 2013 report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design — and I plan to write more here at ArtMuseumTeaching.com in the near future.


Openly Networked Learning In and Across Art Museums

What happens when educators converge around shared interests and purposes in the spaces of museums?  How can museums more effectively build diverse networks of educators that support our teaching and learning practice?  Faced with the complex landscape of formal and informal education in the 21st century, museums across the globe have been rethinking their role as actors within their educational community. Not only are museum galleries increasingly becoming open spaces in which communities of learners can connect and intersect, but museum professionals are also developing online spaces of exchange and reflective practice.

As a practicing art museum educator as well as a museum blogger, I find myself constantly in the process of discovering how “openly networked” an art museum can be.

While the growth of online learning communities and Google Hangouts for museums certainly promotes this principle of connected learning, I want to begin by focusing on how museums can support openly networked experiences in the analog, physical space of their galleries.

Museums as physical, analog networks

In November 2011, I was invited to lead an in-gallery workshop for educators at the High Museum of Art as part of a conference hosted by Harvard University’s Project Zero. The experience centered around an extended engagement with Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1A,” 1948, which was on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of a special exhibition. Instead of an experience guided by information, we began an open, embodied exploration through a series of scaffolded exercises that included slow looking, sharing observations, quick sketches, free writing, and variety of ways to use sound and movement to create responses to the work of art.  Small groups of participants were then invited to pull together sounds, movements, and words to develop creative a public performance in response to the Pollock painting.

teachers explore layers of paint through dynamic movement
teachers explore layers of paint through dynamic movement

One memorable group of three teachers worked together to choreograph a short piece that used their bodies to perform their response to the complex layering of paint and brushstrokes. Freely responding to this single painting through multiple access points as well as public performance, we were able to have a collective learning experience outside of our comfort zone and then immediately “poke at it” and see into the experience as a group. In this case (and many others like it), the art museum becomes a safe, open, and public space in which professional educators from museums, schools, and universities can come together to make learning visible and then reflect upon our practice in a shared space.

Museums as participatory spaces

CoLab community of educators exploring learning at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2012.
community of educators openly exploring learning processes at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2012.

While an art museum gallery can be an amazing place to meet with a class or group of teachers, museums and museum educators must work to actively support openly networked learning experiences. First of all, museums need to see teachers and students as active participants in the learning experience, pushing beyond mere “spectating” or “learning at a glance” toward a more participatory and process-oriented experience.  Part of this involves museums letting go of their ‘authority’ over knowledge and meaning-making, and instead empowering educators to co-create learning experiences with museums — as opposed to passively receiving content from museums, whether that be text panels, audio guides, curators, or museum educators.

Part of achieving this “letting go” is simply valuing teachers’ voices and recognizing teachers as creators of content, knowledge, and meaning in relation to museums. Professional development workshops can be re-envisioned with more of an emphasis on developing communities of practice where we learn from each other no matter what our “home” educational setting might be (school classroom, university, museum, etc.). This sense of creating a community of practice then builds toward a shared, reflective process that leads to professional growth on the side of both teachers and museum educators.

Building online networks of museum educators

The openly networked reflective practice described here does not need to be confined within the walls of a single museum, though.  This is where my experience as a museum blogger has expanded the way that people can connect around issues of museum teaching and learning.  After facilitating the educator workshop at the High Museum of Art back in 2011, I decided to create a multi-author online forum to publicly reflect on my own teaching practice, spotlight the practice of other educators, and provide a space for conversation around larger issues of teaching and learning in museums. Since its launch in February 2012, ArtMuseumTeaching.com has brought together more than 30 authors actively contributing to a growing online community of practice that reaches out to thousands of educators each month.

ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google+ Hangout On Air
ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google+ Hangout

In addition to standard blog-style posts and comments, the site has hosted face-to-face Google+ Hangouts On Air with museum educators and teachers from across the world. The site creates a networked space across museums and teaching contexts, allowing readers and contributors to see into and reflect upon the practice of a wide community of educators.

In their 2012 book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman have argued that large online communities actually expand opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making, and personal interaction.

“People’s relationships remain strong—but they are networked. Neighbors, and neighborhoods still exist, to be sure, but they occupy a smaller portion of people’s lives. It is hard to borrow a cup of sugar from a Facebook friend 1,000 miles away, but it has become easier to socialize, get advice, and exchange emotional support at whatever distance. Where commentators had been afraid that the internet would wither in-person ties, it is clear that they enhance and extend them.”

As ArtMuseumTeaching.com continues to expand as an online space for reflecting on museum practice, I have been exploring how we—as museum and education professionals—maneuver within a technology-mediated world in a way that allows us to cultivate productive, human-centered networks and communities.  Museums and schools have been widely engaged in how digital media and technology can connect them with their students and audiences. But what about the potential of these same technologies to build entirely new “communities of practice” among professionals—whether teachers, university faculty, or museum educators?

I am especially interested in the ways in which an online community like ArtMuseumTeaching.com can, in turn, bring people with shared interests together in physical spaces in new and meaningful ways.  Since 2012, the ArtMuseumTeaching community has hosted several in-person gatherings, including conference sessions, happy hours, and recently the first-ever Museum Teaching Throw Down as well as Gallery Teaching Marathon. As many as one hundred people have come together for these face-to-face social experiences — creating new professional connections and enriching existing collaborations that continue to grow through the online/digital forum.  After all, the relationships we develop online are complex, as a simple Twitter follower or blog reader can quickly become a close colleague, friend, and mentor.  One ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google Hangout in 2013 brought together educators from Australia to New York in real time, and these connections develop new peer networks, partnerships, and professional exchanges that help us all grow personally and professionally.

Through this work that I have been engaged with thus far — both online and in the physical spaces of museum galleries — I feel that the art museum has begun to make a shift in what it has the potential to become: a dynamic cultural landscape where authentic, learner-driven experiences are developed and enacted by teachers and their students. These experiences are opening up museums as places for educators to chart their own path in unpredictable ways, and to invite parallel exploration, risk-taking, and fresh discovery on the part of learners across a variety of contexts.


Originally published in: Garcia, Antero, ed., 2014. Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. This report series on connected learning was made possible by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in connection with its grantmaking initiative on Digital Media and Learning. 

Sharing Authority / Sharing Perspectives: Native Voices

Written by Mike Murawski, Director of Education & Public Programs, Portland Art Museum; and Deana Dartt, Curator of Native American Art, Portland Art Museum

In 1989, the Portland Art Museum brought together a group of about twenty people to discuss the museum’s Rasmussen Collection of Northwest Coast Native American Art. Gathering in the museum’s basement, the group included museum staff, art experts, anthropologist and historian James Clifford, and a group of Tlingit elders accompanied by translators.  Objects from the collection were brought out one by one, presented to the elders for comment with the expectation that they would tell museum staff about how each object was used or by whom they were made.  Instead, as Clifford recounts:

“the objects in the Rasmussen Collection, focus for the consultation, were left—or so it seemed to me—at the margin. For long periods no one paid any attention to them. Stories and songs took center stage” (“Museums as Contact Zones,” p. 189).

Rather than providing historical details and context that could be easily converted into research files or didactic labels, the session brought forth voices, songs, dances, ongoing stories, and lived experiences that challenged the museum with alternative perspectives on these objects as well as a potential way of decentering the museum’s authorial voice. Instead of envisioning ways to bring these voices and stories into dialogue with the collection, the Museum bid the group goodbye and archived the audio and video footage of the consultation.

Twenty-five years after these ‘conversations in the basement,’ the Portland Art Museum is actively working to re-address many of the issues around interpreting its Native American collection. This post highlights a new interpretation project—being prototyped as part of the museum’s Object Stories initiative— that has gathered stories from Yup’ik tribe members in southwestern Alaska to share these voices and stories directly with museum visitors both online and in the galleries.

Object Stories

Object Stories gallery at the Portland Art Museum.
Object Stories gallery at the Portland Art Museum.

Framed by larger challenges facing museums in the 21st century, the Portland Art Museum has been involved in a broader process of rethinking how it relates to its public audience and exploring strategies to be more relevant to its community. It was out of this ongoing thinking that the Object Stories initiative was born in 2011. Since its inception, Object Stories has evolved into an educational platform for engaging audiences and bringing community voices into the process of interpreting the collection.  By capturing, honoring, and sharing participants’ stories, Object Stories aims to demystify the museum, making it more accessible, welcoming, and meaningful to a greater diversity of communities.  This initiative also allows the museum to explore how new media and other technological innovations can contribute to more genuinely inclusive engagement with audiences and communities.

Scholars have questioned how a museum’s voice might be changed from monovocal (single voice, often an institutional “voice from nowhere”) to a more polyvocal (many voices, without much sense of hierarchy).

“In this scenario, museums are encouraged to give up some of their control and their authorial voice to allow the public or specific communities to speak for themselves and be heard in a public space.” (“One Voice to Many Voices?”, 164)

Connecting Collections with Communities: Yup’ik Stories

Early in 2013, education and curatorial staff at the Portland Art Museum collaborated with Alaskan artist and photographer Katie Basile to record a series of “object stories” with native Yup’ik elders, artists, and youth. During several visits to the southwest Alaskan communities of Quinhagak, Kotlik, and Bethel, Basile captured stories from these individuals that reflect upon objects of personal significance as well as selected Yup’ik masks and dance wands from the Museum’s collection.  For this project, Basile used a new iPad app designed for the Object Stories project to allow for recording stories outside the walls of the museum.

As part of the larger initiative to generate knowledge and interpretive resources with the Native community in the public spaces of the museum, these Yup’ik stories have been exhibited in the Arctic Native American Art gallery through an iPad listening station adjacent to their related objects. Bringing together personal object stories and collection-based stories, the museum is offering visitors a layered and nuanced learning experience as the Yup’ik tribe members share their personal and cultural perspectives. The organic, first-person narratives presented here allow for an emphasis on individual Native voices and begin to disrupt the stereotype of a “community voice” that assumes a single “Native” way of being, thinking, and art-making.

The content developed during this pilot Yup’ik storytelling project has proven so meaningful that the Museum plans to expand the model to targeted communities, utilizing the connections and expertise of Native artists to record community members’ stories as part of the Object Stories initiative. First-person narratives by origin community members will then be available to museum visitors through iPads, online collections, and other digital strategies.

130608-ObjectStories-26
Alaska Native artist Drew Michael, whose stories are featured as part of this project. Photo by Katie Basile.

Bringing Back the Story

Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art, Portland Art Museum.
Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art, Portland Art Museum.

In 1989 (pre-NAGPRA), the Portland Art Museum was bold and progressive, if only somewhat ethnocentric, to secure NEH funding to bring Tlingit tribal members to the museum to help the institution tell a more meaningful story of the ancestral objects as it redesigned the Native American galleries. While motives were pure and collaboration was intended, the museum stood between the objects and the stories. The museum attempted to serve as the bridge for the visitors between the ancestral object and the descendent storyteller. However, the stories and objects out of context required much more interpretation than time allowed, so the tapes sat idle with museum staff clueless about any connection to the collection the stories were intended to enliven. Museums have continued to mediate the connection between story and object. We hope to step out of the way.

Object Stories allows people to bring story back to objects disembodied from their cultures and their people. We hope that through this work we can reunite the ancestors with (while introducing museum visitors to) the energy, language, and living traditions of Native people. Initiatives like Object Stories have the potential to transform museums from “sites where knowledge is transmitted to passive audiences to potential forums or contact zones where new voices and visibilities are raised and new knowledge(s) actively constructed” (Viv Golding, Museums and Communities, 25).

In many ways, the Object Stories platform challenges the museum, its audiences, and its communities to consider the complex types of exchange and dialogue that might occur with its collections beyond the traditional experience of passive, didactic looking.  This platform is enabling us to facilitate, and then share, the dialogue between the maker and the viewer and through a process of shared authority and unmediated connection may transform the way museums see, utilize, and present Native American art.

Hangout with NAEA’s New Online Peer-to-Peer Initiative

By Chelsea Kelly, Manager of Digital Learning,  Milwaukee Art Museum

Have you ever gotten home from a conference abuzz with excitement about all the new ideas, people, and programs you’ve learned about and discussed? If so (after you finally recover from all that intense thinking), I’m betting you then thought: “Wow, it’d be great if I didn’t have to wait a full year to get a taste of that again.” Well, that’s exactly why we began a Peer-to-Peer Initiative for the National Art Education Association’s Museum Education Division — to use technology to connect with colleagues and share our ideas and programs in an informal way, outside of conferences.

Google-Hangouts-banner-640x312We’re pleased to announce a pilot series of Google+ Hangouts On Air in the next month. These Hangouts will highlight current work in our field in the conference-like spirit of sharing, discussion, and best practices. (Minus the week-long period of exhaustion and hundreds of emails in your inbox to catch up on afterwards!)

So, please join us for any or all of the below Peer-to-Peer Hangouts this month! Each is about an hour and they are open to all museum educators, regardless of whether you’re an NAEA member.You can find detailed login information for each Hangout on the NAEA Google+ Page.

Tues, Nov 26 | 4 PM EST
Social and Interactive Programs for Adult Visitors
Molly Kysar (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Katie Hill (Minneapolis Institute of Arts), and Jaime Kopke (Denver Art Museum)

Tues, Dec 3 | 4 PM EST
Discussion: “Teaching in the Art Museum” in Practice
Amy Kirschke and Chelsea Kelly (Milwaukee Art Museum)

Fri, Dec 6 | 1 PM EST
Model of Practice: Professionalizing and Integrating a Docent Program
Mark Osterman (Vizcaya Museum and Gardens)

Tues, Dec 10 | 4 PM EST
All Together Now: Talking about Teens and Museums
Gabrielle Wyrick, Cecelia Halle, and Aric Oak (ICA/Boston)

Fri, Dec 13 | 1 PM EST
Art Museums and the Common Core State Standards
Claire Moore (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Sara Egan (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and Theresa Soto (Getty)

Fri, Dec 20 | 1 PM EST
Artists as Audiences
Michelle Hagewood (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Some friendly reminders on how to Hangout — be sure that you sign up for, or activate, a Google+ account (not just a Gmail account). You can’t actually “hang out” if you don’t have Google+! Find instructions here. Once you’ve got an account, add NAEA Museum Education Division to your circles so you can easily join in the Hangout event. And if you need more details on how to Hangout, there are some more materials on how to join in on the NAEA Museum Education Division page (scroll down a bit to find the resource).

And of course, once you’re hanging out with us or after you watch an archived Hangout, join the conversation on Twitter using #MusEdPeers!

Since this is a pilot, we’d love to hear feedback from you as the Hangouts launch. Similarly, if you have an idea for a future Hangout, post it on our Google+ page or contact Michelle Grohe or me.

hang-outWe can’t wait to Hangout with you soon!

Editor’s Note: As ArtMuseumTeaching stays connected to NAEA’s Peer-to-Peer Initiative and all of these fantastic Hangouts, you’ll be able to find discussions and links to post-hangout video archives here, as well, on this sites Google+ Hangout section.  So let’s all get connected, and spread the word!

RELATED POSTS THAT MIGHT BE OF INTEREST:

Google Hangouts: Live Video Chatting Between Museums and Communities

Reimagining Peer Networks in a Digital Age

When Bloggers Collide

Why Museums Can Excel in Online Learning

“The recent development of MOOCs (massive open online courses) can provide museums with valuable possibilities for education, community outreach and multi-disciplinary collaboration.”

The quote above by David Greenfield, a doctoral candidate in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University, was part of a paper entitled “MOOCs, Museums, and Schools: Natural Partners and Processes for Learning” presented at the recent Museums & the Web Conference in Portland theorizing about the potential of partnerships with schools and community members in developing online museum courses. Museums are already starting to realize those possibilities in the area of online courses.

The Museum of Modern Art, the Tate and my own North Carolina Museum of Art are currently offering extended online courses similar to MOOCs. These courses are different from each other in content, audience, and style, yet they are all pioneering engagement with local, national, and global audiences through objects in their specific collections. Their experiences offer important lessons to future museum MOOC-makers.

Why Museums Can Excel Online

MoMA Educator Deborah Howes interviewing MoMA Conservator Glen Wharton in front of 'Untitled,' 1993 by Nam June Paik. Photo used with permission (c) MoMA 2013.
MoMA educator Deborah Howes filming a segment for MoMA Online Courses in front of a Nam June Paik piece.

Why are museums uniquely suited to be leaders in this field? For one, museum education is predicated on informal, constructivist learning approaches which encourage the learner to control their learning. Similarly, online courses allow students to go through the content at their own pace, constructing their own meaning from discussion forums, assignments and projects. Deborah Howes, Director of Digital Learning at MoMA, said, the pairing of museum education and online learning is, “conceptually, very much aligned.” She continues:

“Museum education teaching is based on the curiosity of people who come from all different walks of life and have any number of questions about what excites them. Teaching online, we offer different kinds of learning experiences–videos of behind the scenes tours, slide shows of art works, DIY experiments–and students explore this variety according to their own interests to create meaning.”

Second, museum learning is often social. Visitors come in groups, field trips, or with families to share the experience of looking at and discussing objects. Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, Moodle, and Haiku allow for similar discussions and facilitate group collaboration.

At the North Carolina Museum of Art, students who might live hundreds of miles away can work together on a video project and post art projects to receive peer feedback. MoMA and Tate also encourage this type of online community through discussion boards. MoMA online course alumni have created their own Facebook groups to extend the learning community, some of which are in their third year of operation

MOOCs Multiply Museum Outreach

Elizabeth Moore, an NCVPS Photography student stands with her work in an exhibition in NCMA's education gallery. Courtesy North Carolina Museum of Art.
Elizabeth Moore, an NCVPS Photography student stands with her work in an exhibition in NCMA’s education gallery. Courtesy North Carolina Museum of Art.

Online learning can offer virtual windows to the extensive, beautiful, and awe-inspiring collections that museums have to offer. The NCMA is located in the middle of North Carolina, a state 560 miles (900 km) long. The virtual courses offer both synchronous and asynchronous components. Each week the instructor is in charge of opening the module (or unit) and hosting one live class with students. Otherwise, students go through that module and complete assignments at their own pace. Modules can include articles, assignments, discussion forums vocabulary wiki’s and/or multimedia. Over half of our online high school students live hours away and may never have even heard of their state art museum. Online, they can take our courses, be exposed to art spanning 5,000 years of all mediums, including sculpture, photography, paintings, and mixed media.

Once students take online classes at NCMA, we want to find ways to bring them to the brick-and-mortar building. To do that, we host exhibitions that highlight work from our online courses, which encourages students to visit the NCMA in person (see photo). We’ve also offered field trips and buses to our annual teen event.

The Tate’s reach stretches nationally and even globally. Rosie Cardiff, e-Learning editor at Tate, found that 31% of her students based outside the United Kingdom, with just under 10% living in Australia and New Zealand. Similarly, MoMA has both a national and international reach. A woman from rural Canada who took one of the online courses thanked Howes for the opportunity to interact with a global community of contemporary art lovers that she could not find locally. “A museum can provide that type of community and support,” Howes says.

Financing Remains a Challenge

Both the MoMA and NCMA courses started because of grants from Volkswagen and Wells Fargo Foundation, respectively. Both of these grants end soon, and both institutions are seeking future funding for the growth and expansion of the courses. MoMA charges $150–200 for their self-guided course and $200–350 for their instructor-led courses. Those fees will help sustain the program, whether or not they receive a future grant. The NCMA, on the other hand, does not charge for their courses, instead, high school students receive school credit. While we encourage students to visit the NCMA to see their exhibition or attend a field trip, we don’t have additional funds to cover their travel.

In Tate’s case, Rosie Cardiff explained that “initial funding for developing the courses came from the Tate Online core budget.” Tate charges £20 ($31) for unlimited course access. Cardiff says the courses “have now paid for themselves and cover costs of ongoing maintenance and copyright fees, etc., but they don’t generate much in the way of profit.” When asked what advice she would give to future museums or institutions looking to invest in developing online courses, Cardiff advised thinking “carefully about the business model for the online courses if you are planning to use them to generate revenue. Courses can be costly to produce and you need to think about ongoing maintenance costs, especially if the courses are tutored.”

Cardiff and her team presented an evaluation of their courses and their changing business model at Museums & the Web 2012.

An inside look at the Tate online courses. Courtesy Tate Museum.
An inside look at the Tate online courses. Courtesy Tate Museum.

Grounded in Specific Collections

As museums create online courses, resources, or distant learning programs, Howes advises they “think creatively about the unique qualities of their collection and what that could offer to a global audience. Anyone can do a course on modern art if they have a collection, but how do they offer a unique look on this topic?”

Similarly, the Tate and NCMA courses offer visitors opportunities to engage with and respond to art specific to their collections. The NCMA courses use art in the permanent collection as catalysts for learning about topics such as game design, advertising, fashion, photography and videography. The multimedia we provide include videos of art in the galleries, interviews with museum staff or local, North Carolina experts in that particular field. All three museums offer opportunities to watch video interviews with artists, curators, or experts, as well as demonstrations of artist technique and process.

Full Speed to the Future

David Greenfield believes that when it comes to museums and online learning, “we’re in the evolutionary stages of what’s going on.” As pioneers of a new educational format, museums join with for-profit companies like 2U and Coursera in shaping a field that is rapidly changing. In fact, as of May 1, 2013, MoMA, along with the Exploratorium in San Francisco, has announced a new partnership offering professional development MOOCs for K-12 teachers.

“Museums”, says MoMA’s Deborah Howes, “have a chance to rewrite art history in a way that is relevant to where they are.” MoMA, Tate, and NCMA are already doing just that.

ONLINE COURSE DETAILS:

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Courses Online

  • Audience: lifelong learners, general public
  • Cost: varies from $150-350
  • Length: 5-10 weeks
  • Course topics (selected): From Pigment to Pixel: Color in Modern and Contemporary Art, Experimenting with Collage, Modern Art 1880-1945, Materials and Techniques of Postwar Abstract Painting, etc.
  • Instruction: Self-guided and instructor-led options

North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) Virtual Courses

  • Audience: North Carolina public high school students
  • Cost: Free; only available to high school students for credit
  • Length: semester
  • Course topics: Videography, game design, fashion, advertising, photography
  • Instruction: Instructor-led

Tate Online Courses

  • Audience: lifelong learners, general public
  • Cost: £20
  • Length: 6 units per course, self-guided
  • Course topics: Artists’ Techniques & Methods, Introduction to Drawing Techniques
  • Instruction: Self-guided

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

KoteckiEMILY KOTECKI: Associate Coordinator of Teen and College Programs at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Emily creates online and onsite programming for these audiences, including art competitions, arts councils, and developing online courses.  Prior to museums, Emily worked at The Washington Post as a multimedia politics producer covering the 2008 presidential campaign. She received her received her Master of Arts in Teaching from The George Washington University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism from American University. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyKotecki or visit www.emilykotecki.comEmily’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent the North Carolina Museum of Art’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Google Hangouts: Live Video Chatting between Museums & Online Communities

By Brinker Ferguson, Digital Media Fellow, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

In the past several months, many museums have begun using live video chat as a way to enhance and foster new online discussions and interactions between museum educators and the public. One of the most popular tools has been Google Hangouts which is part of the Google+ social network. It allows for up to 10 users to video chat together and gives them the ability to broadcast the video stream live to a large audience and even record the session for future viewing. The recorded video, which is archived on the museum’s G+ page and YouTube channel, can be shared on various social networks. In addition, the videos collect (limited) analytics information so museums can track the attention it receives. Users who express interest in a museum video session ahead of time can be alerted when it is about to begin via Google+ email messaging.

This use of video chatting has spawned a new online forum that helps to bring together museum curators, directors, historians and educators with different virtual communities for in-depth conversations of art and ideas. Rather then a YouTube video, which disseminates information in a “I talk, you listen” format, video chatting can enable a more flexible and collaborative seminar style discussion. This idea of accessible online videos is very much in keeping with many museums’ mission of providing an open space for dialogue, learning, and exploration for the public, and working toward developing meaningful online communities of practice.

Current Projects

Though relatively new, there have been a large number of museums using Google Hangouts from all over the globe. This past month alone, MoMA debuted its “Art Hang” series, which brings together art educators with other art enthusiasts to discuss topics surrounding art and identity. The Google Art Project began its #ArtTalk hangouts with the National Gallery on March 20th and more recently with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The series, which discusses the stories behind famous works of art, will continue to take place each month at different cultural institutions such as the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor
screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor

Hangouts have also been leveraged in several other artistic ways. For example Google Brazil has used hangouts for their street art campaign, where artist Felipe Iskor created a mural live.

Likewise artists have conducted live studio visits, in which they talk with interested online groups about what inspires them, what their next artwork might look like, and get much needed critical feedback from online art communities.

Understanding Its Impact

Of course, use of a new medium brings new challenges. In trying to gauge the success of video chats, museums are learning how to interpret the relatively sparse analytics information provided by Google+ and YouTube. Statistics like “this video was viewed 5000 times” does not paint a full picture of just how beneficial the video was for the museum and its viewers. It is very clear, however, that hangouts have the ability to reach far greater percentage of the global online community and can do so in a more engaging way. And while it can be difficult to measure the success of these videos, museum educators know it is worth their time to continue exploring the limits of new this technology in order to captivate a broader audience and share more of the museum’s passion for art and cultural heritage.

Possible Uses in the Future

Tools associated with video chatting such as live commenting, image sharing, hash tags, and social media sharing have become additional ways of connecting online viewers with the live discussion. Recently, Mike Murawski of the Portland Art Museum brought up another possible use for video chatting. He suggested using Hangouts as a way of connecting living contemporary artists with museum visitors both in the gallery and online. What would it be like then to talk with an artist about his/her work right in front of the artwork in the gallery? Or watch an artist explaining his/her artwork online while you ask questions?

How can we use these new tools to better facilitate learning and interaction onsite and online in the future? Are there other ways that Google Hangouts or other chatting services will connect people, or perhaps help the museum’s visitors feel closer to its collection?

Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.
Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.

Taking this question further in a mini-thought experiment, imagine what would happen if the video feed were not fixed to the wall. What would a more intimate conversation with an artist look like? While you ebb and flow around the gallery, could an artist virtually tag along with you?

One company exploring the idea of digital presence is Anybots, a team that has created a roving avatar robot with video screen projecting the face of a remote participant. The robot is controlled remotely and reacts to speech frequencies to directly address and react to questions or comments from multiple people. Right now, the Anybots are in the hypothetical realm (due to the hefty $15,000 price tag).

While video chatting environments will continue to develop (though at the moment we are not yet sure in what form they will appear) the strides taken by #ArtHang, Google Art Projects, and many other institutions and artist communities will continue to push online connection and conversation.

Blending Art, Technology, & Interpretation: Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One & ArtLens

By Caroline Goeser

I am part of the team that has led the development of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One and ArtLens iPad app. These new initiatives – blending art, technology, and interpretation – are garnering interest in the press and among museum colleagues. Many thanks to Mike Murawski for asking me to offer my perspective on the project, understanding that it is newly launched and we are in the process of gathering initial feedback. This project is the focus of a paper session at Museums & the Web 2013 in Portland (link to paper here). Responses so far have been enthusiastic as well as probing and have challenged us to think in new ways about what we’ve created and how we want to move forward. Recurring questions from reporters, colleagues, and visitors can serve as a way of introducing some of our goals and future ideas.

What was your plan behind integrating technology?

A view of Gallery One from the main lobby of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.
A view of Gallery One from the main lobby of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.

Our plan conceives technology as an interpretive tool to drive active experiences with art at CMA. Creating Gallery One and the ArtLens app has been part of our mission to put visitors front and center. We wanted to build a gallery experience at the entrance to the museum that would welcome all visitors, with particular focus on families, college students, and young professionals – audiences that have not always seen CMA as their kind of place. We wanted to offer them new possibilities to experience art in a participatory way through the medium of interpretive technology. We also wanted visitors’ encounters in Gallery One to spark interest in the museum as a whole and to provide tools of understanding and enjoyment that could enhance their experience of art in the galleries.

On January 21, 2013, we opened Gallery One and went live with the ArtLens iPad app. Gallery One is a unique space just off the museum’s main lobby in which 55 top-quality art objects from the permanent collection are arranged in thematic groupings that cross time and cultures. This organization allows visitors to make connections across CMA’s comprehensive collection of world art. For example, sculptures of the human form from ancient Rome, Japan, Africa, and 19th-century France greet visitors as they enter the gallery, prompting them to experience how our bodies have inspired art differently over time. Another installation groups paintings and ceramics from Europe and Asia, asking visitors to engage with roots of our contemporary, global culture. Interactive, multi-touch screens interpret selected art installations, allowing visitors to engage actively with the works on view by virtually creating their own works of art, or by physically striking a pose inspired by a work of art they see. Gallery One also includes Studio Play, a dedicated family space with hands-on art-making activities, as well as interactive technology stations that provide young children and their families with fun ways to have first encounters with art and CMA’s collections.

A detail of the Collection Wall in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.
A detail of the Collection Wall in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.

Within Gallery One, just off our new central atrium, a one-of-a-kind, 40-foot multi-touch Collection Wall displays high-resolution images of almost 4,000 works of art from the permanent collection, most on view in the galleries. Every 40 seconds, the wall changes views, showing groupings of art objects based on themes, allowing visitors to see that the collection is dynamic, depending on how you view it. Visitors can touch and browse objects on the Collection Wall to discover other artworks that are related and to find tours that connect objects throughout the collection.

The Collection Wall functions as a place to organize a visit through the permanent collection galleries by way of a unique connection with the ArtLens iPad app. By docking their iPad (or one available for rent) at the Wall, visitors can save their favorite objects to the app and create a personalized tour through the museum. The app’s way finding system directs them to the objects on their tour or to other objects in the collection. They can also find CMA-created tours to organize their visit according to themes they like. Alternatively, they can browse through the galleries and find works of art that engage them, discovering text and video interpretation within the app, or even scanning two-dimensional objects through image recognition to find quick bites of text or video.

What are your learning goals for visitors?

Our goals for what visitors take away involve experience rather than content. We hope that:

  1. visitors have fun with art
  2. the interactive games and interpretation provide tools for understanding and spark social experiences with art
  3. visitors find transformative moments of discovery about continuing creative traditions that make art relevant for them.

Above all, we want to refrain from providing a single, authoritarian guide but instead to offer a variety of choices for visitor engagement. Rather than designing content to meet our own goals for visitors, we have learned from our audience evaluation and responded to the way many of our visitors browse through our galleries, drawn to particular works of art based on their own visual interests and prior knowledge. We’ve been mindful of Jay Rounds’ prescient advice in Curator (2006):

“Visitors come to museums for their own reasons, and those reasons are not necessarily congruent with the goals of the museum. No doubt their browsing through exhibits is suboptimal when compared against [a] museum’s goal that visitors ‘engage in systematic study or exploration.’ But the same [browsing] behavior may prove to be an intelligent response to the situation when measured against the goals of the visitors themselves.” (p. 134)

Sculpture installation in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.
Sculpture installation in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.

Gallery One and ArtLens were designed to honor browsing behavior. There’s no preferred path through Gallery One; visitors can move from one art installation to another, each with its own story. The Collection Wall asks visitors to browse rather than search: to find artworks they like visually, and to discover connections to related works by theme, medium, or time period. The “Near You Now” section of the ArtLens app follows browsers as they meander through the permanent collection galleries, indicating where they are in the building and the artworks near them. For objects with video interpretation, visitors can find a variety of short segments that they can choose according to their personal preferences rather than a prescribed sequence.

When visitor evaluation begins later this spring, we can find out how these tools are working for our visitors. In the meantime, we’ve been fortunate to have visits from a variety of museum colleagues who have shared initial responses. Following his on-site visit, Peter Samis of SFMoMA wrote to our CMA team:

“The Collection Wall reminds me of David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous (2008): it makes every artwork equally available, democratizing the collection…, it enables me to create a tour that threads me like a needle through all the various parts of the building. It disappears the architecture, the molecules, and replaces them with a new organizing principle: visual interest.”

Cool! Interpretive technology serves visitors’ visual interests and democratizes the collection. The challenge comes in the connectivity between the Collection Wall and the iPad app. With the ability to save almost any object to their iPad, what will visitors expect when they reach the actual objects in the galleries? Currently only a portion have video and audio interpretation within the app, some draw web texts and label copy from our databases, but others feature only basic “tombstone” information. We’re eager to discover visitors’ expectations, and in the meantime, to develop priorities for creating new interpretive content.

How can visitors contribute their own art interpretation within the iPad app?

ArtLens video and audio content draws on conversations with curators, educators, conservators, and community members. We hope the variety of voices allows visitors to feel part of the conversation and to suggest that there is no single way to interpret or enjoy a work of art. The community voices are particularly important, as they call up continuing traditions that grow from the artworks on view and connect visitors with people in their community – like the Imam of the Cleveland Mosque for whom the Islamic prayer niche in our collection is part of a living tradition, or the Cleveland ballet dancer who brings his creative perspective to Degas’ Frieze of Dancers.

: Object page for CMA’s Prayer Niche (Mihrab) in ArtLens. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
: Object page for CMA’s Prayer Niche (Mihrab) in ArtLens. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

ArtLens also allows visitors to create their own tours – playlists of their favorite objects with their own catchy titles: “Randomness and Variety,” and “Lightning Tour Before Dinner Dash.” They can share favorite objects through Facebook and Twitter. We conceived these as first steps toward more extensive visitor participation. We’ve discussed the potential for gathering visitors’ stories about CMA’s artworks and incorporating them into the app. We’ve also dreamed about the potential to capture visitors’ voices within the app, so that they can contribute their own insights about their favorite works of art from the galleries or from off site.

We encourage you to download ArtLens to your iPad and give us your feedback. Our project is ambitious – an interpretive system that reaches throughout CMA’s permanent collection. I’ve outlined some of our ideas and plans here, but there’s much more to come, so stay tuned!

I want to extend huge thanks to the members of my CMA team in Education and Interpretation responsible for the development of interpretive content in Gallery One: Seema Rao, Patty Edmonson, and Hajnal Eppely, and in ArtLens: Jennifer Foley, Lori Wienke, and Bethany Corriveau. They are part of CMA’s Gallery One development team, led by Griffith Mann in Curatorial, Jane Alexander in Information Technology, Jeffrey Strean in Design, and myself. Local Projects of New York is responsible for all media design and collaborated with us on the concept development. Earprint Productions of San Francisco produced the ArtLens app digital content, in collaboration with the CMA interpretation team.

ABOUT AUTHOR

image005CAROLINE GOESER currently serves as the Director of the Department of Education and Interpretation at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Joining the museum in 2009, she reorganized the Education Department in 2012 to focus on two primary goals: 1) invigorating classroom experiences through object-based educational programs, and 2) creating vital experiences with works of art in the galleries through interpretive text, technology, gallery teaching, and public programming for visitors of all ages. Caroline collaborates with the Chief Curator and Directors of Information Technology and Design to oversee the new Gallery One, an interactive gallery for intergenerational visitors. She has facilitated and enhanced the museum’s collaborative interpretation program, which has garnered national recognition with the recent award of an NEH Challenge Grant. With colleagues at CMA and Case Western Reserve University, she has worked to re-envision the joint CWRU-CMA doctoral program in art history, which recently received a major grant from the Mellon Foundation to focus on object-based study. Caroline’s postings on this site are her own and don’t necessarily represent the Cleveland Museum of Art’s positions, strategies, or opinions.