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.