The topic of museums and technology is a timely one - as museums of all sizes and types rush to embrace technologies - and also a challenging one, as these institutions attempt to embrace a participatory culture facilitated by new digital technologies, while at the same time retain their expertise and authority as guardians of our culture and heritage.
Museums are using social media like Twitter and Facebook to connect with their visitors, they are using the Internet and mobile devices to disseminate their digitized collections; interactive kiosks, iPads and multimedia handsets are entering their traditional galleries, the public is being engaged with crowdsourced curating, and phenomena like the Google Art Project provide collaborative platforms to not only view super high resolution for virtual tours of galleries around the world. Museums have resolutely entered the digital age, but there are a number of critical issues that must be addressed as the scholarly community contributes a theoretical assessment of the practical applications.
One of these issues is the nature of museum authority in the digital age. Museums have begun allowing for dispersal of authority onto the visitor, encouraging individual interpretation, offering more channels for discourse, and actively seeking visitor participation such as uploading photos and videos, tagging, and curating. With blockbuster exhibitions and a wider range of popular programming such as yoga, fashion, concerts, health screenings, gourmet restaurants and more, museums are trying to appear less elitist and more welcoming to all.
So how can museums retain their authority and expertise, and do they still need to or even want to? How can digital successfully bridge the paradigm of access versus excellence? How do these questions differ in terms of museums outside the US?
Digital advances offer museums a critical chance to become more participatory, approachable, and relatable to the public. As museums adapt to embrace the digital world, how can we ensure that technology enhances and deepens visitor dialogue rather than acting as a superficial fix for museum marketing issues?
One last point has to do with the intersection of museums & academia. As museums are changing in the digital age, we see a proliferation of museum studies programs around the world accompanied by international museum associations, conferences, and publications. Traditionally, museum staff have advanced degrees in their academic disciplines. This remains the case with curatorial staff, but as museums expand programmatically and demographically they have also expanded the breadth of their staff expertise to include academic and professional backgrounds in business, education, marketing, and now digital technology. What are the needs of museums in the digital age regarding human resources? Are museum studies programs preparing students for the changing needs of museums?
Sample projects of interest:
The Art Project is a collaboration between Google and 151 acclaimed art partners from across 40 countries. Using a combination of various Google technologies and expert information provided by our museum partners, we have created a unique online art experience. Users can explore a wide range of artworks at brushstroke level detail, take a virtual tour of a museum and even build their own collections to share... Few people will ever be lucky enough to be able to visit every museum or see every work of art they’re interested in but now many more can enjoy over 30 000 works of art from sculpture to architecture and drawings and explore over 150 collections from 40 countries, all in one place.
An innovative and beautiful digital project which demonstrates the process of engraving. This is a good example of how museums can diversify their offering to include not just the "final product" of the art piece, but the technologies and techniques behind them, and the cultural context from which they emerge.
Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project -- at the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Houston, Texas. Launched this month! NYTimes article from May 14, 2012: "Rescuing the Stories Behind Latino Art:
"The ICAA Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art digital archive provides access to primary sources and critical documents tracing the development of twentieth-century art in Latin America and among Latino populations in the United States. Recovered texts provide a much-needed intellectual foundation for the exhibition, collection, and interpretation of art produced along this cultural axis."
"With this website, the Museum hopes to expand the online presence of the American Enterprise exhibition and discover new ways to collaborate with the public. In the months ahead, the team working on the exhibition will share research and collecting stories, test exhibit ideas, and provide educational content before the physical exhibition opens. Website visitors will be able to engage with the exhibition team and help shape the project’s development."
After a multimedia presentation, the MuseumApp will reveal which primary characteristic of the city would interest you. It then suggests a specific city walk to encompass the art and locations tailored to your own preferences. A mobile app will guide you through the city on one of these walks.
"QRator is a collaborative project which is new kinds of content, co-curated by the public, museum curators, and academic researchers, to enhance museum interpretation, community engagement and establish new connections to museum exhibit content. QRator enables members of the public to type in their thoughts and interpretation of museum objects and click ‘send’. Their interpretation become part of the objects history and ultimately the display itself via the interactive label system to allow the display of comments and information directly next to the artefacts."
"In exploring new ways to enhance these experiences, we were surprised to find that video has a remarkable ability to help us focus our gaze in a way that is often very difficult to do in the galleries...In exploring new ways to enhance these experiences, we were surprised to find that video has a remarkable ability to help us focus our gaze in a way that is often very difficult to do in the galleries."
- Working Guidelines for the Copyright Project -- dealing with the complex issues of putting a museum's collection online
- They allow comments on the objects - see this comment by the son of the artist!
- Policy change - instead of painstakingly vetting each piece of information on every piece of art, the staff made a policy change and decided to "release records online first, then vet information later." They also added a "record completeness meter" to collection records: "One of the most important changes is the visual meter that indicates the completeness of the record. We want to give our users a very visual way to understand where a record may stand in terms of the overall picture of our data."
- Cross-posting the Collection to Wikimedia Commons and the Internet Archive: "I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s simply not enough to publish assets on our own website—we cannot expect people to come to www.brooklynmuseum.org and we need to be reaching out to communities on the web to engage interest in our collections. With that, I’m happy to announce that we are now cross-posting our collections to Wikimedia Commons and the Internet Archive."
We will be joined by the following Invited Guests:
- Anne Balsamo, University of Southern California
- Steven Lubar, Public Humanities at Brown University
- Miriam Posner, UCLA Digital Humanities Program Coordinator
- Phyllis Hecht, John Hopkins University Director, Museum Studies Masters Program
- Colleen Brogan, Digital Learning Project Coordinator, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
The forum is hosted by HASTAC Scholars:
- Susana Bautista, University of Southern California
- Megan Lallier-Barron, University of Oregon
- Sarah Reusché, Brown University
- Sarah Van Horn Melton, Emory University
Please join us below. Everyone is invited to share their thoughts, questions, and projects!