Virtual Visitors: A Community of Clickers and Commentators

The virtual revolution will not be televised.... although you'll probably get a tweet about it.

The virtual revolution will not be televised.... although you'll probably get a tweet about it.

Isn’t it fascinating how quickly (or maybe it’s not that quickly) our technology has advanced, increasing our sense of interconnectedness? I must admit, for awhile I assumed there might be a backlash of sorts where people would start to feel too consumed and overwhelmed by the extent of such connections. Alas, we are probably safe from all that, at least for the time being.

Innovative web and application programs make it possible for local communities to become more connected as well as the formation and cultivation of new virtual communities which extend beyond geographic borders to encompass individuals with similar interests and values.

Threadless is a “community-based tee shirt company with an ongoing, open call for design submissions.” Participants can create tee shirt designs, solicit feedback, and ultimately win a cash prize if your design is selected. At first I thought to myself, who is the community in “community-based tee shirt company.” To answer my own question, in this case it is the community who rates and comments on the participant’s idea. Anyone checking out the website can score designs. What I love about this is that there are numerous entry points to participating and becoming part of this community. The website also allows for designers who are not sure if their design is “ready” to have a preview of sorts which can be reviewed by the greater community. I know you may be asking…. why is Val talking about tee-shirts anyway…. To respond and to affirm, we can look beyond museums for inspiration.

Such opportunities to submit and evaluate works of art, brings to mind the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s 2008, Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibit (side note: inspiration for this exhibit actually came from a book). The museum encouraged museum visitors, artists, and the general public to participate in this co-created exhibit experience with web-access to forums for discussing submitted photos, a virtual tour of the exhibit,  a “blurb book,” and a link to the results of the evaluation process (as the selected images were chosen by this community of participants). What was really neat about this exhibit was that the selected works on display were sized based on their votes (i.e. the more votes you got, the bigger your photo).

This notion reminds me of my previous post about the Partners in Preservation project in the Greater Boston area where participants could vote for a historic site to receive funding and another post regarding the Smithsonian’s NMAAHC asking participants to help select the winning design of the new museum. Creating a virtual community by asking others to vote or make a decision empowers individuals, sparks a desire to participate, and allows them to contribute thoughts and ideas. A likely side effect: people will surely buzz about this to their friends.

In another previous post, I asked if/what museums are doing to talk about all these great changes happening within the museum and if the outside word is aware of all the buzz…. perhaps the Smithsonian was listening to me? Check-out the their Call to Action, “Voice Your Vision” YouTube video:

What a creative way to start a lot of buzz about the museum’s (new) outlook and also solicit ideas and thoughts from the public!

From Facebook to Twitter, social networks also offer plenty of opportunities to reach out to, expand, and engage your virtual community (and if you’re wondering why we should care, check out Nina Simon’s recent blog post). With opportunities to create your own social network and emerging Web 4.0 applications such as Thwonk (a pretty wild “platform and community….giving you full access to manipulate and change the social rules of email list communication”) we should challenge ourselves to effectively and authentically engage our virtual communities while embracing all these innovative (and constantly changing) technological advancements.

I recently heard about the New York Hall of Science’s social network called MySci where their program participants receive usernames from the museum to access and interact with fellow museum program participants, contribute to blogs, and dish science. The network is only available for out-of-school-time program participants; a sort of members only approach with a safe space for kids to share openly. What’s really cool is that even after you grow-out-of or leave the out-of-school-time  programs your account remains active.

New website collectives also offer virtual space to grow, inform, and involve community groups about any range of topics. While at AAM, I attended a session entitled, Places and Stories That Matter: Digital Experiments and Community Involvement where presenters discussed ways they are using digital technology to engage audiences and bridge differences. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania plans to launch (in September 2009) PhilaPlace, an interactive “multi-ethnic web-based resource” that explores the history, culture, and neighborhoods of Philadelphia, PA. The goal of this collaborative project is to “bridge disciplines, media, and audiences by creating a new model for connecting audiences.”  Throughout the planning and development stages, the Historical Society collaborated with community partners and individuals to obtain stories, memories, photos and experiences.  The sneak peek we got during the session was an eye full; Google maps meets Twitter meets Flickr meets YouTube meets established historic archives meets…. well you get the picture.

Similarly, City Lore, is a New York-based non-profit that specializes “in the creation of programs and materials for public education and enjoyment.” One of their many initiatives, in collaboration with the Municipal Arts Society,  is Place Matters “a city-wide initiative to identify, celebrate, interpret and protect places that tell the history and anchor the traditions of New York’s many communities.” Places are nominated by New Yorkers through a Census of Places that Matter and for the sites highlighted on the website, viewers have access to read stories, advocate for these places of importance, and learn about upcoming events and programs.  Another City Lore program, City of Memory, also provides access and opportunities for people to share stories and experiences “that happened forty years ago or something that happened this morning” which are mapped out (so virtual visitors can pin-point these locations and  become actual visitors). I definitely plan on doing a bit of my own research to see if my grandfather’s butcher shop is included among the wonderful stories already shared!

These are just a few of the buzz-worthy, web-based resources that connect, cultivate, and engage folks to grow community interest, involvement, and interaction. Of course the question remains, what if you’re being savvy with technology and no one responds!?

  • Well first things first, reach out to your local and virtual communities using a variety of mainstream and creative methods to build an interest in developing technology-based programs.
  • Secondly, use programs that work for you (you don’t need to have a Twitter feed for the sake of it, I actually follow a couple of museums who hardly ever update their twitter- kind of pointless). Think about ways to virtually engage the public beyond your website, but also consider the time and resources you will need to maintain a presence on the Internet. In considering the time constraints  posed on visitors as contributors, check out this interesting Museum 3.0 post by Monika Lechner.
  • And of course, try new things and look beyond museums for inspiration. Depending on your resources and availability, such applications can be just what you need to revitalize your programs and brand while expanding your reach in serving your community.

To my community of readers: Are you vritually connected to your community, if so how? What are some projects or thoughts you’d like to share about connecting with your local community virtually and growing a virtual community? Do you feel virtually connected to museums, do you care to be? Are you an active member of online communities, when do you participate, how?

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First Impressions on “Second Lives”

Being way off-based about what I was in for, I only recently experienced Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary at the Museum of Arts and Design and I’m so glad I did (as I was not aware that this inaugural exhibit at the museum’s new building, conveniently located in Columbus Circle, ended a few days ago). While this post will not be useful in exciting you to check-out this exhibit for yourself, at the very least I’m hoping the following tidbits and take-aways from my experience will benefit you in some capacity.

Second Lives, The Big Idea: The exhibit featured a handful (50) of internationally established and emerging artists who transformed commonly-found, ordinary materials (most likely made for another purpose, we’re talking magazines, buttons, tin, artificial hair, spools of thread and so on) into objects and installations carefully constructed (or deconstructed), reflecting personal significance and publicly-charged influences.

What Works & Why: The variety of materials used as  an art medium is something people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds and experiences can relate to. While this may not always be possible, it was evident that the the objects and manner in which they were exhibited provided great opportunities for all to observe, experience, and discuss. As a result, these materials are forever transformed in the visitor’s mind into something beyond it’s utilitarian purpose, i.e. I will never look at another phone book or shirt button the same way again. On a personal note, I really enjoyed the labels (approximately 100 words in length) which highlighted the materials used and included the intentions/ influences/ statements/ reasoning of the artist.

Portrait of a Textile Worker by Terese Agnew (2005), from MAD website. Clothing labels, thread, fabric backing.Photo Credit: Peter DiAntoni. From Museum of Art and Design collection (2006.42).

Portrait of a Textile Worker by Terese Agnew (2005), from MAD website. Clothing labels, thread, fabric backing.Photo Credit: Peter DiAntoni. From Museum of Art and Design collection (2006.42).

Above: Extremely impressive in person, the thousands of designer clothing labels intricately stitched by the artist form a mosaic representative of all textile workers. It’s size is quite impressive and was a personal fave of mine.

For Our Techie Friends: A cell phone audio tour accompanied some of the objects. While I didn’t take advantage of this during my experience at the museum, interested folks can dial-in from their homes. Such virtual experiences may be enhanced by the one-click-away option to learn more about a selection of objects from the exhibit.

Additionally, on-site, flat-screen monitors provided opportunities for visitor engagement, self-guided interaction with exhibits, and a resource for general information. As I’ve seen elsewhere, I’m excited about the possibilities and forthcoming uses related to interacting with collections via a tap n’ teach format (tapping on the image of an object to learn about it). However one must know how to interface with these screens or at the very least know they exist in order to benefit from them. While I was at the museum, no one went near these screens. Even I fell susceptible to walking right by one of these 40+ inch monitors until I saw a security guard (by chance) interacting with it. I only spent about 5 seconds tapping on different objects before people started to surround me, wanting to try it out for themselves. My suggestion to MAD is to include some sort of cue to inform visitors of this interactive tool.  Including signage near the touch screens is an easy (although, possibly costly) solution. Alternatively, staff on the museum floor could encourage others and/or periodically interact with these screens as a means to inform visitors of its existence and uses. Such tactics may also be useful in preventing visitors from touching monitors that may not be interactive (as was the case when I got my fingerprints all over a static screen with general museum information. I will spare myself further embarrassment by sparing you the details).

In short, here are some take-aways to….. take-away:

  • Capitalize on any opportunities to connect with visitors. With Second Lives the artists’ materials provided numerous entry points for visitors to engage, interact and converse about. I couldn’t help but overhear two visitors talking about a friend who makes bowls from vinyl records while near Paul Villinski’s, My Back Pages.
  • The power of words, use them wisely. Whether through a cell-phone audio tour or text label, insight, context and clarity comes from the understanding the artists’ point of view. This concept can be applied more broadly (and to different types of museums) by keeping in mind the benefits in collaborating with subject-matter experts and individuals who have a personal and direct connection to the exhibit material or content.
  • Technology = good. Encourage usage by informing users. Creative, interactive opportunities part of an exhibit may greatly enhance an experience if/when the visitor is aware of these opportunities. The types of programs and interactions appropriate and suitable to complement a particular exhibit is a whole conversation in and of itself, so for now I’ll leave it at that.

Art Inspired: Music to My Ears

So I’m not sure how many of you have read about the Tate Modern, UK and its Tate Tracks. Back in 2006, the museum called upon musicians to  choose artwork that would inspire them to compose tracks which visitors (virtual and physical) could enjoy. More recently the museum took this idea a step further and held a music competition, asking participants (ages 16-24) select a piece of artwork from the museum’s collection and write a track response to it.

I really dig the idea of bringing music into museums, thus stimulating an artistic form of reaction to artwork on display and at the same time providing an additional, alternative experience  for visitors to  enjoy, appreciate and react to.

I am currently doing a bit of googling research to see if/what other museums might be jazzing things up a bit in a similar fashion. Do share your experiences if you’ve visited the Tate Modern or any other museum that provides similar experiences and be sure to rock on!

Move to Action: Programs for Individuals with Alzheimer’s

Yesterday I attended an informative and interesting program hosted by the Museum Access Consortium and the Museum of Modern Art. The focus of the two-hour event, held at the MoMA was “Welcoming People with Alzheimer’s to your Museum.” Essentially, participants learned about Alzheimer’s (a form of Dementia) and examples of on-site, museum programs offered in the local community. Jed Levine, Executive Vice President of the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter spoke extensively about this disease and it’s various stages.

Individuals in the early and middle stages of the disease are likely to still be quite active and capable of varying levels of communication, self expression and interpretation. Considering this, museums provide a unique environment and  great opportunity for people with Alzheimer’s and their Caregivers to participate in programs that will empower, entice and connect these participants in deep and meaningful ways.

The panel of museum professionals from local art museums discussed their experiences in developing programs for this audience. The following is a brief listing of such considerations:

  • Institutional Support: Will the Board, Museum director support this initiative? Keep in mind your regular staff-participant ratio and remember to include Caregivers and/or family members in you group size.
  • Audience: Is there a need for such programming? With over 5 million American’s living with Alzheimer’s- the need is there. Contacting your local Alzheimer’s Association can help you determine that need more specifically.
  • Environment: Is the environment of your museum conducive to the needs of this audience? The physical space of the museum (taking into consideration that individuals with Alzheimer’s may wander) as well as the time when programs would take place (preferably during the museum’s most quiet times, with fewer distractions and noise as to not intimidate the participants) should be considered.
  • Funding: Do you have the financial means to sustain such programs?
  • Marketing: How will you reach your prospective participants? It was noted during this program that the Alzheimer’s Association is a key resource in getting in touch with these individuals. Also, it may be beneficial to contact staff from local museums and organizations who currently offer such programs as you may be able to provide mutual marketing support.

Only a personal assessment of available resources will determine if such programming is feasible. What was particularly moving for me was the personal story of a Caregiver and her experience attending the Meet Me At MoMA at the Museum of Modern Art with her husband. She mentioned that while he was not exactly an art enthusiast, the program became something they both looked forward to and later recalled. For Caregivers, who are typically family members, an opportunity to deeply connect with their fellow loved one is something that may not occur as often (especially as Alzheimer’s progresses). It was inspiring to hear that after her husband passed away, it was these positive memories she carried especially close with her.

While the following art museums offer innovative and interactive programs for this audience, other types of museums may also be able to utilize its collection and space to benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s and their Caregivers.

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, offers Met Escapes, free programs on particular Sundays and Wednesdays of each month for individuals living with dementia, their family members and caregivers. Program components include tours and art-making workshops.
  • Folk Art Reflections is an interactive, discussion-based program offered at the American Folk Art Museum, NY. This free program is offered the third Thursday of each month.
  • The MoMA has an on-site, free program entitled Meet Me at MoMA and also launched their Alzheimer’s Project, a “nationwide expansion of the Museum’s outreach program for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.”

Kickin’ Off The Weekend Right

I recently received an email from one of our regular readers informing me of an upcoming event at the American Museum of Natural History, a first-Friday of the month program with live music, drinks, dancing and extended museum hours. You’ve probably read about such events in the New York Times and a quick Google search provides a list of similar events at neighboring museums, vying for your dollars and dancing feet. Rather than highlight one, I’m going to list a few that I came across and let you decide how you’ll spend your next Friday night!

If you come across any other programs in the NYC area, please do comment!

You-MA & Me-MA @ MoMA

MoMA is doing something pretty cool…. staying open late and giving adults an opportunity to feel like kids again by participating in an “art hunt” around the museum.

What: Modern Mondays

When: Monday, March 9th (yes, it’s THIS Monday so be spontaneous)

Where: Do you really need to ask this?

Time: 5:30 pm

Incentives: First 600 ticket buyers (after 5:30 pm) will receive free admission on their next visit. And YES there ARE prizes for all you competitive folks out there!

Museums Are A Girl’s Best Friend

Well not exactly, but move over dogs and diamonds…. museums offer a LOT to girls (and boys and men and women and probably aliens too).

It’s like one-stop shopping for culture, eating, and holiday gifts.

Here are some local exhibits and happenings that may get the girl next door out of the house and headed towards her nearest museum:

As an incentive to knock the lazy out of me, I will write about my adventures and experiences after visiting these great exhibits/programs.