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Becoming Hyperopic

This started out as a post about four collection videos we released last week (you can view those here, here, here and here.) It morphed into a missive on what we produce and why. Hope you enjoy!

When planning digital media projects, it is easy to get caught up in the sensational exhibition cycle at a museum. We hop from one new topic to the next and always work on an exciting new initiative for the next big show. The IMA’s media team has managed to churn out hundreds of video and audio productions, including trailers, interviews, lectures, documentaries, and nine unique TAP mobile tours in three years. Much of this work is focused around our exhibition schedule, with the tours alone consisting of dozens of videos, audio clips and images that focus on the themes, artists and artworks of the special exhibitions.

Realization! Special media dies with special exhibitions

What we came to realize, however, is that when these shows leave the museum, a lot of the value of these precious stories (and the time invested in them) leaves with the loaned objects. The videos and tours take hundreds of hours to produce, assemble and deploy, but at the end of the day, it’s for an experience with an expiration date. Like most museums, we have limited resources for production, so we need our media output to have the most impact and the longest shelf life possible. We were falling for the lure of the short news cycle.

Change of thinking to more long-term (or hyperopic) view

In an attempt to shift our focus to the more long-term, about a year ago we began working on creating content around works from our permanent collection. Not a mind-blowing revelation, but an important pivot for the ‘mission’ of our team. As this has become more second-nature, the goal of creating as much multi-use content as possible became evident. Our approach to modular content means we can use the resulting product in a variety of ways: on collection pages, in exhibition microsites, and for future mobile tour experiences.We only produce projects with a clear vision of how it will be published through these channels.

Positive benefits from a year of this thinking at IMA

Within TAP tours, we focus (when possible) on telling stories about works owned by the IMA. Part of this process involves careful planning to maximize time with our experts. When we sit down with curators or conservators for other projects, I always take  a few minutes to have them speak about a work or two from their collection area. A great example is the video we made featuring curator Ellen Lee discussing the IMA’s Bonnard La Glace de la Chambre Verte (Mirror in the Green Room). We had Ellen in the studio to record segments for the Snapshot TAP tour, and so we spent some time discussing a few IMA pieces. The result is a video that can be used for many years to come about a beloved work in our collection.

The benefits to our visitors are many and will compound over time. We have produced about 30 collection-related videos in the past year, with more in production every month. It has become part of our working model and an important vision for the Publishing and Media department. We updated the layout of our collection pages to feature more and different types of media, including articles and excerpts, videos, images, and external links. As we continue to update and enhance collection pages on our website as we create this content, we create the groundwork for future in-gallery mobile experiences and tours.

Why this is important to Museums everywhere

Museums are places where hyperopic thinking fits naturally within the larger goals of our work. Our curators and conservators work to stretch the life of physical objects out as long as possible. We think about being stewards of objects for generations. Shouldn’t the stories associated with those objects last as well? As museum technologists, how can we incorporate this kind of long-term thinking into our everyday work? If museums think about the variety of stories around objects as intrinsic to the life of the object itself, we can build models for preserving the stories and continuing to find new ways of delivering this core content to our visitors.

Filed under: Interviews, New Media, Technology


Please Chime In: The Challenges and Opportunities of Participatory Culture

With the hustle and bustle of life and meetings swirling around us all, it’s a rare occasion that we get to step outside of that pace and reflect on “big issues.” Contemplating an approach for the challenges that face museums given the changes in popular culture can make the difference between an organization that significantly impacts its community for good, and those that simply succeed at keeping the doors open.  Given the economic challenges many museums are encountering, keeping the doors open is – in and of itself – a challenge.  I’m a firm believer that times of challenge can be the best possible times to seize the opportunities at hand and make big changes.

I’m grateful for an opportunity to join a small group of museum and library experts in Salzburg next week for a meeting at the Salzburg Global Seminar entitled, “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture.”  I’ve agreed to participate and blog about my experiences from my perspective as a museum executive and a technologist.  I thought that in the spirit of “participatory culture,” I could ask a number of my friends and colleagues their opinions about the biggest challenges facing museums and libraries today.  I’ll bring those ideas and insights to Salzburg with me and represent those thoughts in the discussions there.  Please feel free to join the discussion on Twitter (#museumchallenges) or post your thoughts in the comments here.

The responses I’ve received via email and twitter have been pretty amazing! Several of my colleagues pointed out that museums are still adjusting to a perceived shift in our relationships with visitors.  Museums want to engage visitors and provide a variety of deep experiences, but don’t quite know how to sustain those efforts over a long period of time.

Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology from the Brooklyn Museum of Art asks the critical questions about how museums can build consistency in their efforts of engagement.

“How do we create engaging experiences consistently, so that visitors feel participation is part of the overall culture of the institution?  I’ve seen a lot of one-offs, where there’s a burst of activity around one single project, but the challenge is creating a consistency so that valued participation is always part of the museum experience.  In addition, these projects too often just exist online and not within the walls of the institution when people visit. The challenge is creating an overall experience that works both online and off and one that consistently allows visitors to participate in meaningful ways.”

Rich Cherry, Director of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, points out that this goal of engagement and interaction with visitors both online and in the gallery carries with it some different expectations from public audiences and funding agencies that make planning for sustainability more difficult on the museum.

“Museums are in a difficult transition phase because of changing media consumption.  While young audiences are consuming social media and online content, older audiences are making that transition more slowly.   Unlike past shifts in media, this one is more interactive and limits the ability to simply re-purpose content.  This creates unique staffing and budgetary issues that are compounded by the recent economic downturn.  Funders are pushing museums to engage these new audience behaviors while not recognizing that a significant audience does not use these new methods and [museums] must support a dual track for some time to come.”

Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Museum of Art and History Santa Cruz, makes the point in her book about The Participatory Museum that,

“Participatory projects are like gardens; they require continual tending and cultivation. They may not demand as much capital spending and pre-launch planning as traditional museum projects, but they require ongoing management once they are open to participants. This means shifting a larger percentage of project budgets towards operation, maintenance, and facilitation staff.”

In addition to this fact, when I asked Nina what she saw as the challenges for museums seeking to embrace a participatory culture, she raised an important issue about museums’ strategy for funding these initiatives. Nina asks, “How do [museums] use participatory techniques to support more diverse and equitable use of our resources (as opposed to providing more for the people we already serve well)?

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Filed under: Interviews, Museum Community, Musings


Top 10 Most Read IMA Blog Posts of 2010

If you were to Google “2010 Top Ten”, you would see a variety of lists from Halloween costumes to songs, films, and even an attempt to be all-inclusive with The Top 10 Everything of 2010.

Top 10 lists are actually one of my guilty pleasures of the New Year, especially when the list pertains to popular culture. After a visit to Google Analytics, I pulled the top 10 most read IMA Blog posts of the past year (according to pageviews). Some of these were actually written before 2010, but our readers kept them popular. So, in case you missed any of the original posts, here are the favorites of the past year…

Top Ten Lists Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Design, Film, Guest Bloggers, IMA TV, Interviews, New Media, Polls, Technology


Get the Ball-Nogues Rolling

If you have been in the IMA recently, you saw the spectacular and commanding work Gravity’s Loom by Ball-Nogues Studio, comprised of miles of colorful string and arranged in a dizzying spiral. Amanda York blogged about the creation of Gravity’s Loom during the week it was installed. Now, I see groups of visitors gathered under it daily- it is a great way to enter the museum.

Benjamin and Gaston gave a talk at the Museum after the install, where they showcased both their knowledge of architecture and commitment to their process as well as their wicked senses of humor. In case you missed it, here is the lecture. And if you haven’t seen Gravity’s Loom, get to the Museum as soon as you can!

Filed under: Art, Interviews, Public Programs


StoryCorps visits the IMA

I’m a sucker for any story that depicts a “triumph of the human spirit.” I succumb to that feeling of my throat getting tight, my lower lip trembling, eyes welling with tears as I listen to someone recount how they faced insurmountable challenge, but found the strength and support to overcome adversity. Those tales of creativity and strength and love and commitment just get me every time.

In 2009, the IMA was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In order to offer a more personalized view of each institution receiving the award, IMLS partnered with a non-profit group called StoryCorps. If you’ve tuned into WFYI in the mornings, you may have heard some of the three minute interview segments that have been recorded by StoryCorps staff across the country.

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Filed under: Education, Interviews, Local


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