To our delight, The Davis LAB opened on the first gallery level of the IMA Saturday. (To learn more about the LAB, read Daniel’s most recent post.) From my opening-day-experience, I found that a wide range of museum visitors were drawn into the space, tempted by the shiny touchscreens or the cool pseudoscience, atomic age design and lighting. My favorite comments from the day included a little boy who was squeezed into a chair with his older sister watching live ArtBabble projected in HD on the wall.
“This is really cool,” he said timidly, referring to the space. Daniel showed him the new animated trailer for ArtBabble, to which he replied, “That was not cool…I mean that was not long enough.”
Another visitor asked if he could take a nap in the corner because he found the furniture and atmosphere so relaxing. It was a pleasure to watch kids, teens, parents and docents use the computers and ArtBabble video Web site as tools for learning and for fun.
This leads me to a larger question I’ve been asking myself (and some of you): What are the pros and cons of interactive games in art museums, and how far should we go with the concept? The Davis LAB doesn’t include games per se, but getting on a computer and exploring ArtBabble is, like a game, a lot of fun. For the purpose of this post, I’ll classify interactivity as anything from paper scavenger hunts to computer kiosks in the galleries. All these activities turn upside down the traditional museum experience of walking through galleries and looking at the art on the walls with an element of relational interactivity between the visitor and the art.
NPR recently explored the topic in a piece called “Interactive Games Make Museums a Play to Play”, by Elizabeth Blair, which highlighted the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Luce Foundation Center for an alternative reality game they created. A teacher I know testified that interactive games in museums prompted her students to look more closely at the artwork. NPR noted happiness, clear instructions, feedback, shared experience and being part of something bigger as benefits to interactivity.
I wonder if some museum visitors find interactive games disruptive or cause them to focus less on the physical art as they attempt to check off a work they just found through the interactive game and rush off to the next masterpiece. Should museums use interactive technology like video or audio tours as a revenue generator at the risk of taking attention away from the physical piece of art? Or is it our duty as museum professionals to ensure that the technology only enhances the connection? Are games a marketing tool to woo new audiences to art, or are they the future of art? I have heard the argument that “high brow” art clashes with “low brow” games. Do we need to be entertained at an art museum by something else, or do we go to let the art entertain us?