Take it Home and Unpack it.

Last week Maxwell Anderson, from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, had some settling things to say about the role of technology in the transition from virtual to visceral audiences during the opening plenary for the 2009 Museums and the Web conference.

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“As social networking continues to grow, a priority for museums should be to open the experiences they offer on-site to visitors online. By prioritizing production of web-based high-definition video, real-time transparency in reporting out museum activities, and new avenues for audience participation, museums may be able to stand out in the increasingly cluttered media landscape.”

The conference explored variable media strategies currently being used within museums from experimental exhibition initiatives (like using GIIS and GPS to map collections in physical spaces) to new interpretive plans (exploring collaborative histories through wikis) to new platforms for Digital Asset Management ( Fedora, Drupal, and Cloud Computing).

As a first timer to the conference I found the experience invaluable. I naively attempted to make it to every session I physically could while volunteering, trying to take notes, and participate in the backchannel. I think my head exploded. Twice. It was a marginally overwhelming experience and there is still a lot to unpack. But even with the variety of topics presented throughout the conference the issue of transparency and community involvement was one that stuck with me.

As a social media advocate, I couldn’t agree more with the statement made in the opening.  New technologies can help to build community, channel relevant news and information, extend conversations beyond the walls of institutions, and provide a space for the co-creation of knowledge. By inviting visitors, staff, and artists to join in on various networked communities, museums can incite communication and promote the dialogue and transparency necessary for relevance.

This was also the first forum in which people didn’t respond reluctantly to the idea of community generated content, in fact majority of the folks in attendance were searching out more ways to get their audiences involved.  Personally I feel that the more access and opportunity for ownership we provide our visitors the more they will invest in providing relevant content.

All too often people are afraid that if a public forum is set up that people are going to use it pre-pubescently. I’m not sure if I buy it. I know that in some instances people have a preternatural sense to act immaturely in anonymous settings but I can’t help be believe that if a museum created a sense of community ownership, that something like public forums could really take off in an effective way.

First attempts

For the 2009 DXARTS BFA Exhibition this spring I have set up a Bright Kite wall as a way for students, artists, and visitors to interact with one another both within the gallery space and online. Bright Kite is a location-aware social network that allows participants to interact with each other in real time. This network platform also provides location/event specific feeds called a Bright Kite wall. With this wall participants will also be able to send direct messages to one another via twitter, Bright Kite Online, or through SMS/Texting. These interactions, comments, and queries are fed to the Wall which can be displayed both on screen in a Gallery space or online. With this dual capacity active participants will be able to interact in a dialogue when on site and after they leave allowing those who visited the museum weeks ago to communicate with someone currently on-site about their experience.

Going to see a work is in and of itself is an encounter, but how can we support a more direct experience with the art and artists we support? Encouraging dialogue between visitors, students, and artists can provide a relevant forum for exploring the content, context, and interpretation of contemporary art in an inclusive and effective way. With a visitor population so actively involved in various social networks outside the museum space it seems appropriate to incorporate these elements of engagement within the context of the gallery and in turn energize discussion beyond the exhibition space.

Could this work in a museum? Yes. The Mattress Factory had pretty great success with Bright Kite and I feel as the mindscape of social media grows these public displays of dialog will become more relevant.  It may take a little tugging, but I’m going to continue to root for these sorts of applications.

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Play Art Loud! ArtBabble.org
I'm also a contributor to the Henry Art Gallery's Hankblog and editor/producer of the Gallery's ArtCasts.

I'm currently working as a Wallace Foundation Fellow with emp|sfm to foster a new network for the NorthWest all ages music & arts community. Its called The Sound Board and you should totally check it out.

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