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Drinking About Museums: Boston! 7/23 @ Area 4, Cambridge

Thinking about exhibits thoughts on museums, content, design, and why they matter [Ed Rodley] - July 19, 2013 - 4:44pm

3539399413_0950e33332Hey kids!

Need something to help cool down?  Nothing cooler than hanging out with your favorite DAM cool people *and* special DAM guest, multimedia producer extraordinaire Robin White Owen(@rocombo) up from NYC.

When: Tuesday, July 23 at 6pm
Where:  Area Four (same as last time)
500 Technology Square, Cambridge

Tell your friends!

Filed under: Thinking tools

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff


Mattress Factory - July 19, 2013 - 2:56pm

For the past two weeks an enthusiastic bunch of students have taken up their own artist residence at the Mattress Factory for Community Art Labs. Pittsburgh puppet maker Cheryl Capezzuti has been working with a group of 10 to 13-year olds to transform both every day and unusual materials into one-of-a-kind creatures and full-body puppets.

Artist John Peña has been guiding students through various stages of sculpture, from miniature to massive! 

You can see more pictures of Community Art Lab on our Flickr page.
As today is the last full day of workshops for our first session, Director of Education Felice Cleveland sat down with the young participants to hear what they had to say about the Mattress Factory and their workshops. Some of the best responses are below:

Do you know what installation art is?
-Yes, art you can walk into –  a place that you can actually live in.
-Yes, art that you can get into – inside of it and connected with it.
-Yes, art that makes use of space or that you can be inside of.
-Yes, when art is made in the space and it is IN the space.
-Something that is creative and can use any material, anything you can imagine.

What have you learned at Community Art Lab?
-That you never make mistakes in art, even if you mess up to keep going
-How to work better with other people, work more quickly and execute an idea faster.
-That there is art that stands out and art that doesn’t. I learned that "ephemeral" is something that lasts for a very short time.
-Art isn’t just painting and sketches. You don’t need anything fancy to make art (i.e. we are using a lot of cardboard!).

What was your favorite activity at Community Art Lab?
-Making the project where something fits in your hand five or ten times bigger.
-Making small and big puppets – it was very artistic and we used recycled materials. Working together on one project but trying different materials. 
-Giant puppets and making giant things.

How did you like being at the Mattress Factory all day?
-I like it, it's fun and different. I’ve never been to a camp with so many activities and you actually get to go outside and eat lunch in a piece of artwork.
-I like it a lot. I like the atmosphere of both classes. It is happy like a family.
-I LOVE it, because it is fun and creative and you get to not just look at art, but go in to it.

How does Community Art Lab compare to other programs you have participated in?
-It is more exciting here and you get to do everything.
-It is better than others, you can make so many things with all your teachers and it is so fun.
-Everyone is treated the same – both adults + kids. There is a better quality of art/materials.
-This program is a lot more work—more collaborative.
-It is a museum and it is a lot of art – there are better and more interesting projects at CAL. Other
camps have projects I already know and something I don’t know is more interesting.
-All other programs were science / math, so this was more creative and laid back. There were no wrong ideas for projects.

What improvements could be made to Community Art Lab?
-Longer – having more weeks.
-Longer days.
-We could add more weeks and have more activities and different artists come.

Do you have any other comments?
-The Mattress Factory is awesome.
-I think that there is a good amount of staff who were all very charismatic and I’m glad they had air conditioning.

All of the students involved in this summer's Community Art Labs will take part in a celebration August 9 from 6-8pm. Come check out what all the budding artists who participated in our workshops have been up to this summer. Invite your friends to come with you and see incredible artwork (both in our permanent collection AND made by students) and never-before-seen performances, participate in hands-on workshops and enjoy light fare. Free; RSVPs requested to felice[at]mattress[dot]org.

Thanks to all of our 2013 Community Art Lab participants. We're glad we have air conditioning too!

Read All Posts by Mandy

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Past Forward: One Library

Hanging Together (RLG) - July 19, 2013 - 11:03am

This is the first in a series on the OCLC Research Library Partnership meeting, Past Forward.

Past Forward, a meeting for the OCLC Research Library Partnership was held last month, June 4-5 (with a pre-meeting workshop on June 3rd). We’ve just posted the videos and other outputs for the meeting, and it falls to me to summarize the meeting and outcomes. But how to capture such a rich experience? This wasn’t just a meeting, it was the best meeting we’ve ever had (and that’s not just me talking, I have feedback from a survey to back me up). Instead of summarizing chronologically, as I usually do, I’m going to call out some themes that surfaced during the meeting. The overall theme for Past Forward was “managing special collections in the 21st century” (and the workshop was on outreach — teaching, fundraising, and connecting on campus — for special collections). Naturally, I anticipated that outcomes would cleave to special collections. I was surprised to find that they were really much broader. See what you think and if you attended the meeting in person or online (or watched the videos) please contribute your comments!

From Rachel Beckett's presentation -- staff special collections vision exercise

From Rachel Beckett’s presentation — staff special collections vision exercise

One Library

It was during the pre-meeting workshop that it hit me. Lance Heidig’s presentation centered on his relatively novel position at Cornell University, which integrates special collections and general library instruction. This makes all kinds of sense, because this has got to be the way that most library patrons (faculty, students, other researchers) approach their own work. I think it’s probably quite rare that research includes only primary source material or things found in special collections without also citing secondary literature (monographs, journals and the like). So why do we isolate special collections teaching from the teaching about the general collections?

It’s a good question, and the notion of integrating special collections into the broader library surfaced in more than just this one presentation. Robyn Holmes (National Library of Australia), Rachel Beckett (Manchester University), and Mike Furlough (Pennsylvania State University) each hit on the notion of a more incorporated special collections in their presentations in the “Repositioning Special Collections” panel. A the University of Manchester, staff identified gaps in engagement and support for learners and support for research: part of the remedy has been for special collections to sit on committees to address these issues. At the National Library of Australia, repositioning goes a step further, with a single reading room for all formats embodying their “one library” concept. Too, the library is emphasizing shared systems for description and processing of collections, trying to get away from “special” ways of dealing with collections and introduce more common processes. Mike Furlough’s presentation highlighted an external review of special collections, but also emphasized PSU’s organizational structure, in which special collections is in the same administrative unit as digitization & preservation and publishing & curation services, which both has the potential to bring special collections closer to the end products in scholarly communications and also allows for sister units to more easily capitalize on skills of special collections staff.

This notion of getting out of your four walls was taken a step further in Lisa Carter’s presentation on advocacy — she urges special collections to connect more directly with the missions and priorities of their parent institutions, acknowledging that it’s not just special collections must serve the larger needs of the whole.

You can find Heidig and Carter’s presentations on the workshop page; the presentations from the panel on “repositioning” can be found on the Past Forward event page. You might also enjoy the videos from the meeting.

I’ll be back next week with another theme, finding new ways forward.

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Futurist Friday: Nonprofit Apartheid and the Overhead Myth

Center for the Future of Museums [AAM] - July 19, 2013 - 9:00am

I posted some brief musings this past Monday about the blurring boundaries between nonprofit and for profit options for young professionals seeking to do good in their careers. In the comment section, "Albert Nonymous" posted a link to a TED talk by Dan Pallotta, president of Advertising for Humanity, who is widely credited with pushing the boundaries of multi-day charity events that raise huge amounts of money.
I agree with Mr. Nonymous that this 19 minute video is very much to the point, and recommend it as today’s futurist assignment.

Pallotta outlines five “rules” (or norms) that discriminate against nonprofits that make it hard for them to succeed—either at competing with the for profit sector for employees, or at scaling up their impact. These rules describe societal attitudes towards nonprofit:

  1. Compensation—our society seems to believe it isn’t right to use pay to incentivize people to help other people. Why, Pallotta asks, is it ok to make a lot of money not helping other people, but not ok to make a lot of money for doing a good job of helping people? As I hear a lot of grumbling, in the museum arena, about the low pay of our profession, you may be interested in what Pallotta has to say to this point.
  2. Advertising and Marketing—society doesn’t recognize the value and payback of nonprofit spending on advertising. The amount of GDP going to charity has been stuck at 2% for over forty years.  Pallotta asks, how are we going to unstick that figure, and wrestle “market share” from the for-profit sector if we can’t market what we do to potential donors?
  3. Risk Taking—big corporations can take big risks (and fail) in pursuit of a big payoff. As long as their overall performance is good in the long run, people are ok with that. Pallotta feels one thing killing innovation in our sector is that nonprofits are so routinely beat up in the press if any one fundraising attempt fails.
  4. Time—for profits can take years to become profitable and generate income for their investors. It took Amazon years to pay off, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter attract massive investment while searching for a stable financial model. During that time, a lot of their money goes to scaling up to the point where they are sustainable. Pallotta points out that society has no patience with a nonprofit that concentrates its resources internally on building capacity, rather than channeling it immediately to short term mission delivery.
  5. The very nature of nonprofit status—because we can’t pay people a return on their investment, we have less access to capital and less ability to take on debt. (Hence the dilemma I wrote about Monday, as entrepreneur Saul Garlick considers whether he would do more good, and be more sustainable, by turning his nonprofit into a for profit company.)

These five “rules” hobble our ability to generate scale, and limit our ability to have a profound impact on the world.
Pallotta ends with an effective summary of the arguments against the “overhead myth”—the single figure metric that says that nonprofits should spend the vast majority of their operating expenses on programs, as if “overhead” (read staff, facilities, capacity) were an evil and wasteful extravagance.  (You can read more about this last point at the Overhead Myth Campaign, supported by GuideStar, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance, which is recruiting signatures on a pledge to “end the Overhead Myth and support nonprofits to invest in their mission, sustainability and success.”)
So my Futurist Friday assignment for you: watch the video and think about what would have to happen in order for Pallotta’s three rules to be overturned. What trends and events might shift societal attitudes and values so that, in the future:
  • Nonprofit professionals are compensated commensurate to their ability to deliver on their nonprofit mission, and this compensation was competitive with the for profit sector, in part because
  • It is right an appropriate for nonprofits to market what we do for all we are worth—expanding the percent of GDP going to charity from 2% to 3% or higher
  • A good nonprofit is expected to take risks, and occasionally fail, in pursuit of the next great thing they might achieve
  • Donors accept and support that a nonprofit might have to focus its efforts and money inward for some years, investing in its own capacity to scale up
  • Many nonprofits move to a hybrid model (B corporations, L3Cs) to attracted social entrepreneurs who want to invest their money in return for both a financial result and a social good.
And please, share your insights in the comment section of the Blog!

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

The wrap

The Doofer Call [Jeremy Ottevanger] - July 19, 2013 - 6:12am

So, it's over. The PhD. Having first submitted the thesis in November... been examined in March, done my amendments (thereby adding another 150 pages...) and made my final submission at the end...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

What "Teaching Computers" Can Tell Us about Teaching Digital Culture

Digital Media and Learning - July 18, 2013 - 1:15pm

John Jones Teaching Digital Culture

In a recent piece at Locus, Cory Doctorow argues:

Computers are the children of the human race’s mind, and as they become intimately involved in new aspects of our lives, we keep stumbling into semantic minefields, where commonly understood terms turn out to have no single, well-agreed-upon meaning across all parts of society.

As an example, Doctorow gives the "real names" policies of social network sites like Facebook and Google+. Where it may seem simple for a person to use his or her legal name on a website, Doctorow uses the example of his family, immigrants from Belarus, to complicate this assumption, describing the convoluted processes by which they acquired transliterated names and nicknames when they moved to Canada. Here he describes his grandfather's name:

My dad’s father was born Avram, which was anglicized as "Abraham" (naturally enough), but his first employer called him "Bill," because that was a more "Canadian" name. It stuck, and his Canadian citizenship papers read "Abraham William Doctorow," though no one ever called him "William."

The complexity of a name—what I am called depends on where I am and who I am with, and those realities may not be reflected on official documents—can elude computers in ways that are unlikely to stump or confuse a human.

The title of Doctorow's essay is "Teaching Computers Shows Us How Little We Understand About Ourselves," and while I think he identifies a real problem in computer culture—he describes it as the "ambiguity that is inherent in our human lives…rub[bing] up against our computerized need for rigid categories"—my takeaway from his article was slightly different than his.

Doctorow uses this example to suggest that we don't know enough about ourselves to code these relationships properly into computers. I think, however, that it shows the limitations of a certain way of thinking, a way of thinking that wants to apply rigid, rule-based codes to all situations. This is how computers "think," and they can be quite inflexible because of it. As Doctorow puts it, "With a human bureaucrat, there was always the possibility of wheedling an exception; machines don’t wheedle." 

While wheedle has some negative connotations, what Doctorow is describing is basic persuasion, the chance to convince another to see beyond rigid categories in a particular situation, and computers do not perform well at tasks like that.

Real name policies don't show us what we don't know about ourselves, but rather expose limitations of digital culture and our adaptation to it. Near the end of the piece, Doctorow warns against "encoding errors about the true shape of family in software," implying that if we could only get the software right—if Facebook had the right form for his grandfather, for example—this would solve the problem with real name policies. But, while the correct software might be possible to achieve, the real issue with computers will remain: computers can't wheedle (at least for the foreseeable future), and wheedling is an important part of who we are and how we interact with each other.

I am an advocate of teaching programming and other forms of digital culture. But Doctorow underscores the (current) limitations of these systems, and performs the correct response. He is able to convey the complexity of real name policies by carefully explaining the issues involved and the limitations of technical systems. That is, his essay emphasizes the importance of teaching writing and communication skills as part of digital media instruction. 

This is not writing as simple grammatical correctness (a rule-based, machine view of language), but as the vast array of persuasive possibilities presented by language that are relevant not only to texts, but to podcasts and videos and other artifacts of digital communication. Certain technologies can constrain the range of such persuasive communication, but it will never become unimportant, and pointing out the limitations of our technical systems only serves to underscore this point.

Banner image credit: quinn.anya

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

More non-linear narratives, museums & immersive theatre: Then She Fell

powerhouse museum - fresh+new - seb chan - July 18, 2013 - 10:33am

I’m just back from another immersive theatre instalment.

This time I went with some friends to Then She Fell, a performance piece by Third Rail currently being staged in Williamsburg. Then She Fell invites audiences to “explore a dreamscape where every alcove, corner, and corridor has been transformed into lushly designed world. Inspired by the life and writings of Lewis Carroll, it offers an Alice-like experience for audience members as they explore the rooms, often by themselves, in order to discover hidden scenes; encounter performers one-on-one; unearth clues that illuminate a shrouded history; use skeleton keys to gain access to guarded secrets; and imbibe elixirs custom designed by one of NYC’s foremost mixologists.”

I loved it. You should go. Really.

And like my experience at Sleep No More, it points to some interesting ideas for exhibition and experience design.

Then She Fell follows a different model to Sleep No More. For a start it operates at a far reduced scale – only 15 audience members per performance. This has the benefit of creating a very intimate experience and one that guarantees everyone gets several intense one-on-one moments with the performers. In fact my journey began with an intimate moment inside a cupboard and later in the performance when I ended up in a larger group with other audience members I felt a little annoyed at their presence – as if they’d now were able to share ‘my journey’.

The other difference is that it, as we say in video game parlance, is far more ‘on rails‘. Unlike the sandbox world of Sleep No More in which the audience roams pretty freely and events/acts happen at certain times in certain places whether or not audience members are there or not, in Then She Fell you are led along your path – often hand-in-hand with a performer. Importantly, every audience member is on a different path that come together and intersect at various points. Speaking to my friends afterwards it was clear that there is a core series of sequences that every audience member gets to experience in different sequences, but that there are also a group of other unique experiences that are only happen to one or two people. The choreography of the 15 audience members with this sequencing reminded me of the intertwined stories for the different playable characters – each with their own story – in Dragon Age: Origins.

This points to a complex multi-linear narrative as opposed to the almost non-linearity of Sleep No More. No one can accidentally ‘miss everything’ as I’ve heard a few complain of the Sleep No More experience, and this makes it instantly rewarding for ‘all’. In museum terms, it means it is more like that private collection tour with a senior curator – which all museums have trouble ‘scaling up’. (Although Neal Stimler’s experiments with Google Glass-led curator tours at the Met and the National Museum of Australia’s robot docent trials might offer new opportunities).

More broadly, I’m finding that these sorts of performances point to a growing pervasiveness of ‘video game literacy’. Not only do these productions draw on the tropes of video game design and multi-linear nested narratives, the audience is supposed to know and understand how to inhabit the worlds that these narratives create. This is something that museums haven’t worked out how to do well yet – and yet our audiences are increasingly developing these literacies charged by the mainstreaming of video gaming and also their influence on mainstream TV and cinema.

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Exploring the Edge of Innovation in Seattle

Center for the Future of Museums [AAM] - July 18, 2013 - 9:00am

The Call for Proposals for the Alliance annual meeting is now open.
First piece of news: the theme is (drum roll) “The Innovation Edge.”
Second piece of news: forget the first piece of news. It doesn’t matter.
Well, it does matter to us, the conference organizers. It helps focus our thinking, guide our search for keynote speakers and thought leaders, and make the case for support to local funders. Added bonus if it provokes some new ideas on your part for session proposals (“oh I’ve been meaning to share all about that little innovation project we have going.”) 
But don’t feel obligated to work the word “innovation” into your proposal (whether it naturally belongs there or not), and it doesn’t mean that proposals about innovation have an advantage in the selection process.
[Note, however, that one of the evaluation criteria is “the topic is important and/or timely,” and prospective proposers are directed to TrendsWatch 2013 for guidance on that point. Insert CFM smiley face here.] The session proposal guidelines have more information about the criteria for selection.
OK, with theme settled, on to logistics of the proposal process. Visit the annual meeting webpage for details, but here are some highlights.
You may remember that last year was our first experiment with an on-line submission process that invited crowdsourced input. That had some good points (people felt free to float creative ideas) and some rocky bits (particularly the technology). Here is what we have tweaked this year to improve the process we prototyped in 2013:

  •  You can use the proposal site to post drafts for comment and input (use the “Save” button), but you must, as a final and separate step, use the “Submit” button to send the proposal for review. (This way the system won’t accidentally import incomplete or abandoned proposal drafts.) NOTE: once you submit a session, you can’t edit it.
  • There is a new search function—you can find proposals by searching on any part of the name of the person submitting the session, a key word in the title, or by track/subject area. You can also search on the name of a proposed presenter (but you won’t see their name in the summaries returned by the search—click through to a proposal to check who is presenting.
  • Each proposal also has a comment section where peer discussion can take place—you will receive an email if someone comments on your proposal. This can help you solicit input on your session and search for other presenters.
  • Crowdsourced input is again encouraged: after submissions close on August 26, AAM members will be able to show support for a session by “liking” it. The National Program Committee will take these ratings into account but the number of “likes” won’t determine a proposal’s fate. 

 Our technology team spent a lot of time on the look and feel of the site to make it more user-friendly. We hope you like the improvements and look forward to your feedback on this iteration of the site.
To get things rolling, I’ve posted a draft proposal on behalf of CFM exploring how museums are harnessing the Internet of Things—networked objects and sensors—in the service of building management, security, collections care, marketing and interpretation. I’ll be writing a follow up post on that proposal (which you can read on the proposal site), telling you how Phil and I are developing the session, and what kind of input we would like from you.

Now—go forth and propose. I look forward to reading your submissions!

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Hack the Museum Camp Part 2: Making Magic, Reality TV, and Risk as a Red Herring

Museum 2.0 [Nina Simon] - July 17, 2013 - 12:17pm

We did it. Last week, my museum hosted Hack the Museum Camp, a 2.5 day adventure in which teams of adults--75 people, of whom about half are museum professionals, half creative folks of various stripes--developed an experimental exhibition around our permanent collection in our largest gallery.

We now have a painting hanging from the ceiling that you can lie under and experience in 3D. We have a gravestone with a Ouija board in front of it so you can commune with its owner. We have a sculpture in its crate/prison cell, unwrapped and unexhibited since its acquisition thirty years ago.

We also have 75 new friends, slightly bleary from the experience, which felt like one part intense work project, one part marathon, one part hallucinogenic love-in.

I'm not going to write too much about the process here--please check out Paul Orselli's blog post for his perspective as a counselor, Sarah Margusen's Pinterest board for her perspective as a camper, or Georgia Perry's article for the Santa Cruz Weekly, which provides an outsider's view on the process. You can also see a ton of photos on Instagram, and I highly recommend the Confessional Tent videos for sheer silliness (more on those below).
Here's what I got out of Hack the Museum Camp. It is amazing to actually DO things with colleagues in professional development situations instead of just talking. In 2009, after we hosted the Creativity and Collaboration retreat, I wrote a post about ditching "conferences" for "camp" experiences. Four years later, my appetite for these kinds of experiences hasn't changed. It felt great to once again be working with people--brainstorming exhibit challenges, editing label text, even just messing around on the player piano together. As a floating camp director, I got the best of this (interaction with all the campers) and the worst (no intense team time). I felt lucky to be able to dip into the various project teams, though that also gave me a completely aberrant perspective on camp. I was impressed by the extent to which the teams seemed to gel and people appeared, for the most part, to be happy spending the majority of their time here with a small group of teammates. There's always a balancing act between team project time and everybody time. If we do this again, I think we will swing towards a bit more everybody time so people could learn from more of the diverse and fabulous campers who were here.

I was surprised by the extent to which reality TV culture imprinted on the experience. People talked about the camp as Project Runway for museums. I'd give a team feedback and they said it was like Tim Gunn had blessed their project. As a forest-dwelling hippie, I know very little about reality TV, but it's clear that the model of "do an ambitious, wacky project really fast" is now tied closely to a slew of shows about everything from cooking to art-making. There were some ways we deliberately played with this--MAH staff member Elise Granata created an ingenious Confessional Tent where campers could make hilarious first-person videos about their experience--but there were other ways it really surprised me. Teams were more intense than I anticipated. Every team completed an exhibit in the time allotted. I assumed that at least one team would fizzle out, erupt, or just decide not to fully engage. Instead, everyone was focused and intent on creating something fabulous. I'm not sure how much reality TV affected this, but it was clear that people had internalized the "rules" of camp and were ready to play, and play hard. This mindset also impacted perception of everyone's roles in the camp. While it was completely hilarious to hear that "this is not Nina Simon best friend camp," it was also a little sad to realize that in the framework of something like reality TV, the camp director doesn't get to really jump in in an authentic, casual way with campers--I was expected to play the host role.

Diversity isn't just nice to have--it's fabulous. We selected our campers from a fairly large pool of applicants; about 1/3 of those who applied were invited to attend. During the selection process, we prioritized diversity--of experience, of geography, of gender, of perspective. Then, when we put together teams, we again tried to break people up such that every team would have a blend of individuals across several axes. Several campers commented to me that their favorite part of camp was the diversity of the campers' backgrounds and frameworks. If we were to do this again, I would ask one additional question of applicants: age. We had a good mix of people in their 20s-50s with a smattering of outliers, but it was clear that the most effective teams had age diversity within a team itself. Many of the oldest campers were "counselors"--seasoned exhibit designers I've known and respected for a long time--and we didn't have enough counselors for every team to have one. I'm not sure how important it is for every team to have a designated counselor--interestingly, in early feedback, many campers wanted leadership whereas counselors wished there had been a more even playing field. I do think that no matter what, it is valuable for every team to have a mix of ages and experiences.

The idea of "risk" is often a red herring. This was probably the biggest surprise for me - yet it shouldn't have been. We framed this entire experience around "creative risk-taking." Throughout the camp, I pushed teams to make sure that their projects truly challenged traditional museum practice. While this probably did inspire some teams to do some weird and wonderful things, it was also problematic for two reasons:

  • For campers who are not in the museum field, it was confusing. Everyone's definition of risk is different, and while museum professionals may share a common language around the topic, that commonality breaks down when you involve artists and technologists and game designers and performers. The whole point of bringing in non-museum professionals was to expand the dialogue around what is possible, and in some ways, the "risk" framing limited those possibilities.
  • More importantly, I've discovered again and again that when you are actually doing what others categorize as risky, it doesn't feel like risk at all. When I hosted a panel on risk-taking at AAM in 2011, all of the panelists agreed that we don't see our work as "risky"--we just see it as the work we are compelled to do (scroll down to the second part of this post). Once each team got into their projects, they were just cranking to make it happen. Sure, they might have decided to present an art object in a confrontational and opinionated way. Or they might have chosen to make up a fictitious narrative around history artifacts. Those are risky decisions in the broader museum context. But in the context of Hack the Museum Camp, they were just the starting points for projects. I wish we had focused more on a theme like "make an exhibit that is completely delightful and surprising" and less on "make an exhibit that takes a risk."
On the other hand, it was also empowering for some campers to experience how doing things that are "against the rules" can generate really wonderful levels of creative output. I know that our staff and members are really excited and energized by the exhibition that this camp created. We'll open the exhibition formally to the public this Friday, but already, we've had great response from donors and visitors who have wandered through. Yes, the exhibition is chaotic. But it is also full of surprises and vitality, and it showcases a very wide palate of approaches to collection objects. While the timing isn't great given my upcoming maternity/blog leave, I'll try to write a post at the end of the exhibition run sharing some of the reactions to the exhibition itself from visitors.

What questions do you have about camp? What would (or wouldn't) make you want to participate in something like this? I also encourage campers and counselors to share comments here, though I know that you represent a tiny subset of the folks reading this.

In closing, a quote from one camper's evaluation of the experience:
I like to say that if I am not afraid every day, then it is time to move on to another job. There were several moments during camp when I was felt a surge of anxiety, trepidiation, self-doubt. What is amazing about being with such a great group of people, is that they carry you through it. ... By the end of this week I will probably forget the sound of the player piano, the feel of the hard floor, or the carpal tunnel setting in my fingers. But I won't forget the many individuals who were so generous and tenacious; so honest and proud. Thanks for all the memories.

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

New tune – Seascape

electronic museum - mike ellis - July 17, 2013 - 8:21am

Inspired by the beautiful flat seas round here at the moment.

Written and produced on the amazing NanoStudio.

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Kickstarting a New Museum: MOFAD

Center for the Future of Museums [AAM] - July 16, 2013 - 9:00am

How can a museum fully integrate food into the whole museum experience—not just the cafeteria or restaurant, but collections, exhibits and programming as well? How would a museum designed, from scratch, around food differ from a traditional museum?
I’m going to find out first-hand—as a member of the advisory board of the Museum of Food and Drink. MOFAD is a new museum just starting up in New York City. Their mission is to “change the way people think about food and inspire day-to-day curiosity about what we eat and why.” 

When MOFAD offered me the opportunity to help start a museum that aspires to become “the global leader for food education,” I saw it as a chance to explore many of the issues raised in CFM’s Feeding the Spirit initiative. I have a book in production compiling what I've collected so far on museums connecting with their communities via food, but I want to dig deeper.
One of the refrains I heard over and over again from people involved in Feeding the Spirit was how hard it is to fully integrate food and the experience of preparing and sharing food into a traditional museum. Museums are usually designed to segregate food and all the risks it might pose from the collections and the exhibits. Often museum facilities don’t meet the legal requirements needed to serve food to the public, and their organizational structures don’t facilitate getting the necessary permissions. (Read Pam Campanaro’s hair-raising story on that subject here.) I've been brainstorming with potential partners on how to fund a conference on how to redesign or retrofit museums to embrace food—not just in the restaurant but integrated into exhibits and programming. Meanwhile, I get to see what MOFAD can do, starting from a blank slate.
Also, very much in the spirit of CFM: rather than waiting to find their physical location (much less build the museum), MOFAD is launching with a mobile, pop-up exhibit. This means they get to literally start with a bang, since the exhibit consists of a working Puffing Gun—the machine that turns grains into puffed cereal by…oh heck, just watch the video.

Notice MOFAD is crowdfunding this first exhibit via Kickstarter (and yes, as the video says, I have donated. That is what board members are supposed to do, right?) We are 78% of the way towards our $80,000 goal—and have until Saturday, July 20 to make it across the finish line. I’m crossing my fingers for the rest of the week.
I’ll be sharing my experiences with MOFAD on the blog. Stay tuned for adventures in:Picture from Food Fashionista

  • Trying to start a new museum in this challenging economy
  • Designing a museum around food
  • Moderating the fertile collision of the food world with the museum world 
  • Designing the museum staff uniform--will it include orange Crocs? (At right, see my fellow advisory board member Chef Mario Batali in his signature footwear)

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

The Trouble with Testing

Digital Media and Learning - July 15, 2013 - 9:10pm

Monica Bulger The Trouble with Testing Blog Image

It’s obviously summer because my news alerts are no longer steadily reporting concerns about education, our children’s future, the problems with teachers, etc. Perhaps now, then, is the perfect time to address the issue of testing and its troubles, while a little distance might provide perspective. So, why do we test? What do we hope the tests will achieve?

Last summer, Thomas Friedman suggested that parents and teachers view classroom performance as CEOs do economic performance to keep us competitive and to overcome our “education challenge.” In this light, testing helps us know where we stand in relation to other countries. Presumably, this knowledge will improve local performance because teachers can target areas of weakness.

Yet, learning research consistently shows that an emphasis on test scores does not necessarily lead to gains in academic performance. Perhaps learning, with its long-term gains and diffuse experiences does not lend itself well to an economic model. Instead of focusing on test scores at the elementary and secondary levels, why not take a longer-term view? Why public education? What are our true goals for teaching and learning? When pressed, most politicians will state that the long-term goals of education are to develop a citizenry that maximizes contributions to society and economy; yet, our standard test measures typically seem unrelated to the higher-order qualities that lead to such engaged citizens. It seems that to move toward a goal of an educated, engaged citizenry, we should consider the skills, aptitudes, and experiences of those among us who do positively contribute to society, who embody the values we seek to instill, and measure our school systems in terms of these long-term outputs.

Current testing mostly focuses on short-term achievement without considering long-term goals. For example, after our early 20s, most of us don’t remember quadratic equations, regardless of how well we tested in our teens; but perhaps the lesson wasn’t the equation itself, but the process of understanding or not understanding it. Learning is about more than its parts, it is about perseverance, to pursue a thing regardless of its obstacles, to adapt ideas and frameworks in light of new challenges and uncertainty. Yet these lessons aren’t adequately measured in national or international tests, not because of lack of interest but because of their intangibility. How many high school students who many considered ‘least likely to succeed’ did anyway? When we limit our measures of potential to fragmented subject knowledge, we risk missing what truly contributes to fostering the citizenry to which we aspire.

Ticking boxes and demonstrating an understanding of concepts in isolation, skills measured by PISA and ETS, do not prepare students well for demands of university learning or future careers. Established predictors of academic success—patience, perseverance, and adaptability—are not measured by these exams. Another consistent predictor of academic and professional success, delayed gratification—discovered in the now infamous marshmallow study that tested children’s ability to forego short-term gratification in favor of long-term gain—cannot be measured by the PISA tests.

Also not reported through PISA is the ability to crossover between subjects and concepts, to see the applications of and relationships between ideas beyond a single instance. The ability to imagine, to be creative, to adapt ideas regardless of challenges or obstacles are predictors of innovation. In these skills, we could argue that many graduates of the U.S. school system have far surpassed their counterparts. For some reason, despite our ‘average’ scores, the U.S. continues to be a major contributor to technologies that change the world: the Internet, Facebook, Google, the iPhone, to name but a few examples, not to mention innovative contributions in the areas of entertainment, health, and science. So perhaps testing well isn’t the only measure of success.

In looking at examples from Finland and South Korea, we want to take the learning gains a la carte, apart from the social systems that may foster them. We desire learning gains in mathematics, for example, but not a nationalized health system. Often absent from discussions of testing and improvements to education is the parents' role in their children’s academic performance and future career choice (Friedman provides an excellent overview of research in 2011). How do parents in these high performing countries support their children’s learning? Consistently in the U.S., parent’s education level is shown to be a predictor of academic success, yet corporate models of increased testing and academic competitiveness ignore the role of the parents. There is a gap in expectation: we expect teachers to improve, school systems to improve, indeed even children to improve, but we do not consider what kinds of support parents might need in order to cultivate adequate learning environments for their children outside of the classroom. We do not expect parents to play a stronger role in prioritizing education, and further, do not offer an infrastructure to aid parents in supporting their children’s learning experiences.

Friedman accurately states there is a mismatch in worldviews. The aggressive rhetoric of ‘education challenge’ seems unhelpful though, and I recommend instead focusing on the questions David Graeber posed, why are there no flying cars? If an entire nation of schoolchildren scored perfectly on the standardized tests now, what would our society be like in 15-25 years? Would we enjoy more social equality, enlightened distribution of resources, flying cars? As a nation, we need to be more clear about what it is we’re aiming at, and the best place to start is to look around at the people who already embody these qualities and consider how our school system and larger society fostered their development.

Banner image credit: biologycorner

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff


Mattress Factory - July 15, 2013 - 1:05pm

During the last week of the installation, Feminist And..., we detailed our intern Matthew Liner to document some of the works for our blog. Matthew dug deep and spent time in each of the spaces to share them in his own words. Below are his interpretations of works by Parastou Forouhar, Loraine Leeson and Carrie Mae Weems.

Feminist And…Orientalism:  The Work Of Parastou Forouhar

Parastou Forouhar’s Written Room defies traditional boundaries of architecture. The walls and floor are covered in an ornamental Farsi that branches and sweeps over the white of the room. The writing does not obey the “up-down direction” that Forouhar attributes to architecture. Instead, she reimages the space as a place where her language fails in everyday life, separating her from both the Western culture that sees her home as an “alien society” and the native Iran that rejects her beliefs.

Through her illustration, animation, painting, and sculpture, Forouhar observes how we, as Westerners, observe “Oriental-Islamic” culture. To the average Western viewer, the writing on the walls of Written Room is indecipherable. The Persian language becomes pure ornamentation: a beautiful script that simultaneously alienates and contains its audience. The cultural gulf created by the disparity between languages separates the audience from what surrounds them. They can find no beginning, no end, and no words for interpretation. The effect is that of expatriates in a foreign country: thrust into a new culture and forced to give up an authoritative standpoint, isolated by what surrounds them.

However, Forouhar complicates her work. The Farsi on the walls only offers snippets of phrases and words, leaving the piece broken and obfuscated to even those who can read her writing. The choice to further the distance between the audience and the artwork hints at the beginnings of the project as it relates to the identity of an expatriate, distanced from both the culture she’s in and the culture she’s from.

Forouhar’s parents were assassinated on November 21, 1998. Her parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, were the first of the “Chain Murders”—political murders of the Iranian government’s opposition. A year later, Forouhar began her Written Room project, building a body of work that explores national identity from a country known for political prosecution of women and activists.

Since the deaths of her parents, the Iranian government has challenged Forouhar at every attempt to memorialize her parents’ deaths. Most recently, in November of 2012, she was stopped and had her passport confiscated upon entering the Iranian airport. Her precarious situation makes obvious the dilemma of the expat existing between a cultures that misunderstands and a culture that rejects.

You can view more of Forouhar’s work, as well as read her essays on her website.

Feminist And…Community Perspectives:  Loraine Leeson’s Active Energy

“If there were any technology that could be developed that you feel would best support yourselves or your communities, what would that be?”

Loraine Leeson's art practice revolves around the above question. Through her work, she’s helped raise awareness for a variety of issues, bringing communities together around a single cause. Her community-centered art has worked to benefit communities for the past 30 years. In the 80s, Leeson co-founded the Docklands Community Poster Project, which ran during the ten-year re-development of the London Docklands. In 2002, she founded cSPACE, a website dedicated to the exploration of collective creative practice.

In 2008, Leeson began Active Energy, a series of interviews with the Geezers Club in London’s East End. This project has Leeson directly asking her subjects what technology they thought would support their community, and the group banded together in answering the question with a concern about alternative energy in the Thames. Since, the group has made a proposal to install turbines in the river.

Bringing the project to Pittsburgh with the Mattress Factory, Leeson posed the same question to a group of senior North Side women, and they answered with their concerns about Alzheimer’s. The videos of the interviews, exploring their concerns about dementia and aging, are paired with those of the Geezers in London. Outside the viewing room, a small table and video station offer an interactive segment of the piece, where viewers can watch more in-depth interviews, as well as find out more about the project. The effect of the piece is a cacophony of voices, blending concerns of mental and environmental health from both sides of the Atlantic, and connecting with Betsy Damon’s addition to the exhibition.
Find out more about Loraine Leeson’s work at the Active Energy website and join in on the conversation in the comments below. What technology do you feel would best help the local community?

Feminist And…Pepper’s Ghost:  Carrie Mae Weems’ Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me

What do Carrie Mae Weems and Tupac Shakur have in common?

They’ve both taken the form of Pepper’s Ghost.

Carrie Mae Weems’ installation at Mattress Factory (which recently traveled to the Look3 festival) builds on an already diverse body of work that examines the legacies of racism, sexism, and classism in American culture through far ranging media. For her piece at the Mattress Factory—Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me – A Story in Five Parts—Weems skews the use of film in a way only she can, by conjuring up Pepper’s Ghost., a technique with roots in the 16th-century that still wows audiences today.

In the late 16th-century, Neapolitan scientist Giambattista della Porta set down instructions for an illusion titled “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not.” The instructions, which describe using a polished glass pane to reflect objects completely outside the audience’s field of vision, are (according to Wikipedia) the first description of Pepper’s Ghost.
Fast-forward to 1862, and the inventor Henry Dirks has developed a theatre spectacle known as the Dirksian Phantasmagoria, an update to the illusion that fills an entire stage.  Dirks’ technique proved too costly for theater owners to support, since the entire stage needed to be rebuilt for his effect to work. So, John Henry Pepper, a scientist and inventor with The Royal Polytechnic Institute in London, popularized a modification of Dirks’ technique that was cheaper. Pepper’s name was permanently tied to the technique, although he did try to give Dirks credit.

Since its popularization, the technique has been used by everyone including amateur haunted house builders to the team that brought Tupac Shakur back to life at Coachella 2012.

Weems uses the illusion to great effect, capitalizing on the ethereal quality of Pepper’s Ghost to show how the history of race, gender, and class in America still haunts our culture today.

-Posted by Matthew, marketing intern

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Monday Musing: On Blurring Boundaries

Center for the Future of Museums [AAM] - July 15, 2013 - 11:18am

Monday musings are my way of sharing brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

Two recent articles in the New York Times are fueling my thinking about the future of nonprofts:

Article #1: A Social Entrepreneur's Quandary: Nonprofit or For-Profit? from last Wednesday's Case Studies column invited business experts to weigh in on the decision faced by Saul Garlick, founder of ThinkImpact, a nonprofit that encourages entrepreneurship in third world communities. Garlick is frustrated by the nonprofit hamster wheel of low salaries, uncertain income, and onerous expectations on the part of funders. Also, he has ambitions to scale up and increase the organization's impact, and raising nonprofit capital is extremely difficult. So he posed this question to the Case Studies advisers and to readers of the column: does it make more sense for him to 

  • Remain a nonprofit
  • Close the nonprofit, form a for profit company to buy the assets of the old nonpo and pay off its debts, take on debt and raise equity from investors
  • Keep the nonprofit but start a for profit subsidiary. The nonpo could pursue grants and donations, the for profit could take on debt and use traditional sources of business financing
Later this week, the NYT will share what Garlick decides to do (check in at nytimes,com/boss) 
Article #2: A Six-Figure Salary? They'd Rather Make a Difference looks at the "Venture for America" program, which recruits recent college graduates to serve as fellows at companies in cities that need to build a stronger business infrastructure--places like Detroit, Cleveland and Providence--that are not the usual magnets for young entrepreneurs. The article highlights the mindset that drives talented graduates from some of the top schools in the country to choose this high-risk route rather than the traditional job tracks into business, finance or technology. "I want to be in a position where I could have a huge impact on the community" said one VA fellow. This choice has immediate costs--Fellows take a salary in the mid-30's, compared to the six figures referred to in the headline, which someone with a good GPA from a top university could typically expect on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley. The executive director of Duke's career center, interviewed for the article, notes  that in recent years, “students have become more interested in exploring the intersection of entrepreneurship and social enterprise."

Hmm, forgoing the earning power that comes with a good education, and choosing instead to find a job that lets you do social good and have a big impact on the community. Sounds a lot like the reasoning that has lured people into nonprofit work for decades, yes? 

Pair this with the take away of article #1--that a for profit business might be a more sustainable and scale-able way to tackle a social need--and you have my Monday Musing: Are we entering a time when the traditional distinction between a nonprofit and a for profit career is blurring? Will Millennials see for profit social enterprise as an attractive way to fill their desire for mission-driven work, and will that affect the nonprofit workforce? And, most intriguingly for me, is there a future out there for the for profit museum that takes on debt and leverages capital in order to scale up the good it does in the world? 

Your turn to weigh in.

Ok that took a little more than 15 minutes, but it was worth it. 

Update: On Monday, July 15 the NYT reported on Saul Garlick's decision to turn ThinkImpact into a for profit enterprise. You can read about the advice he received, and his reasoning, here.  The take-away quote from Garlick, for me: "I think people make the mistake of distinguishing for-good vs. for-money. The notion that nonprofits are the right — or even, better — vehicle for doing good in the world is no longer true. That may have been the case at one time, but today, ethical, well-run businesses with products that make life better are remarkable at improving lives at scale."

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Monday Musing: On Burring Boundaries

Center for the Future of Museums [AAM] - July 15, 2013 - 11:18am

Monday musings are my way of sharing brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

Two recent articles in the New York Times are fueling my thinking about the future of nonprofts:

Article #1: A Social Entrepreneur's Quandary: Nonprofit or For-Profit? from last Wednesday's Case Studies column invited business experts to weigh in on the decision faced by Saul Garlick, founder of ThinkImpact, a nonprofit that encourages entrepreneurship in third world communities. Garlick is frustrated by the nonprofit hamster wheel of low salaries, uncertain income, and onerous expectations on the part of funders. Also, he has ambitions to scale up and increase the organization's impact, and raising nonprofit capital is extremely difficult. So he posed this question to the Case Studies advisers and to readers of the column: does it make more sense for him to 

  • Remain a nonprofit
  • Close the nonprofit, form a for profit company to buy the assets of the old nonpo and pay off its debts, take on debt and raise equity from investors
  • Keep the nonprofit but start a for profit subsidiary. The nonpo could pursue grants and donations, the for profit could take on debt and use traditional sources of business financing
Later this week, the NYT will share what Garlick decides to do (check in at nytimes,com/boss) 
Article #2: A Six-Figure Salary? They'd Rather Make a Difference looks at the "Venture for America" program, which recruits recent college graduates to serve as fellows at companies in cities that need to build a stronger business infrastructure--places like Detroit, Cleveland and Providence--that are not the usual magnets for young entrepreneurs. The article highlights the mindset that drives talented graduates from some of the top schools in the country to choose this high-risk route rather than the traditional job tracks into business, finance or technology. "I want to be in a position where I could have a huge impact on the community" said one VA fellow. This choice has immediate costs--Fellows take a salary in the mid-30's, compared to the six figures referred to in the headline, which someone with a good GPA from a top university could typically expect on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley. The executive director of Duke's career center, interviewed for the article, notes  that in recent years, “students have become more interested in exploring the intersection of entrepreneurship and social enterprise."

Hmm, forgoing the earning power that comes with a good education, and choosing instead to find a job that lets you do social good and have a big impact on the community. Sounds a lot like the reasoning that has lured people into nonprofit work for decades, yes? 

Pair this with the take away of article #1--that a for profit business might be a more sustainable and scale-able way to tackle a social need--and you have my Monday Musing: Are we entering a time when the traditional distinction between a nonprofit and a for profit career is blurring? Will Millennials see for profit social enterprise as an attractive way to fill their desire for mission-driven work, and will that affect the nonprofit workforce? And, most intriguingly for me, is there a future out there for the for profit museum that takes on debt and leverages capital in order to scale up the good it does in the world? 

Your turn to weigh in.

Ok that took a little more than 15 minutes, but it was worth it. 

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Ice Cube & AFP: What makes for successful narrators?

Thinking about exhibits thoughts on museums, content, design, and why they matter [Ed Rodley] - July 15, 2013 - 8:00am

We’re getting ready to host LACMA’s California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”
exhibition in the Spring, so we’ve just begun talking about our interpretive strategies and exhibition design. As I started screening the videos that were produced for the exhibition I was reminded of one of my favorite museum advertising campaigns; Pacific Standard Time’s use of the rapper Ice Cube.

Ice Cube and the Eames

image linked from

It’s more than just a nice ad. To appreciate it, you have to watch his celebration of Charles and Ray Eames. It’s only 2:16. Watch it now, OK?

In two minutes, he gives you a sense of his connection to California, art, architecture, and design. He drops the little bomb that he studied architectural drafting, so he knows something about the subject, and he’s able to draw parallels between what he does and what the Eames were doing, bringing in mashups and sampling. It’s authentic, it provides an interesting insight into both the Eames and Ice Cube, and it’s enjoyable as hell to watch. “That’s going green 1949 style, bitch! Believe it!” Priceless… Watch it again if you want.

Beth Lisick and Alexander Calder


After annoying everybody in the office with insistent calls to come into my office and watch it, I started trying to unpack why I liked it so much, and recalled an earlier piece that I think I like even more. To go along with a Calder show they did back in 2006, SFMOMA commissioned Bay Area spoken word artist Beth Lisick to do a short piece on Calder for their podcast series. This one’s short, too, and both a brilliant work in its own right and great, intimate take on Calder that isn’t didactic in the slightest, yet manages to work a lot of content into only a couple of minutes. Start at around 13:02 and enjoy an imagined evening with Beth Lisick and Alexander Calder.

Podcast with teeny, iPod-sized images
Podcast with just audio

I liked this so much the first time I heard it that I bugged a rather bemused Peter Samis to pleeeeaaaaase give a copy of that clip. It stayed in heavy rotation in the spoken word list on my iPod for several years. The concept, the writing, her delivery, even the background music, all worked to tell a tight little story, full of emotion. I can’t imagine what the first meeting must’ve been like when they read the script. “You’re ordering Chinese food and asking Alexander Calder if he wants to put on sweatpants? Umm….OK.” But it works so well to bring Calder to life for a couple of minutes, to humanize the great artist and turn him back into a person who might’ve come home one night, tired and hungry, and had someone waiting at home for him to tell her about his day.

After this segue, I realized that instead of being two things I liked, they might share some attributes that would be worth analyzing to see what common threads link them. I thought back to all the other celebrity media appearances I’d seen or heard that I liked, from breathy Jessica Tandy voiceovers, to Jeremy Irons’ smooth pronunciation of “Wenudjebauendjed” in an Egyptian archaeology show. And I only came up with one more example that really stood out as particularly inspired.

Amanda F**king Palmer (AFP) and Edgar Degas


The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston did an exhibition called “Degas and the Nude” a couple of years ago, and had local singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer narrate the audiotour. It’s an inspired choice. Unfortunately, the MFA’s tours are only available on-site (boo!) for a rental fee so I can’t share any of the performance with you. I reviewed the exhibition back when it opened, and Palmer wrote about her take on being an audiotour narrator in a long post that is NSFW towards the end.

The choice of Palmer might seem odd at first blush. What does a punk cabaret singer have to share about a French Impressionist painter? Quite a lot, it turns out, because Palmer was an artist’s model in her student days, so she knows a lot about being nude in front of an artist, and the relationship between artist and subject. Take my word for it, it was a great tour.

So what do these three very different interlocutors do that works so well?

They bridge the gulf between audience and expert
One thing I think all three do an excellent job of doing, is placing the narrator in the position of helping the audience approach the subject. Unlike a subject matter expert like a curator, or another expert in the same domain, they stand in between the completely uninitiated and the cognoscenti, and provide a scaffold for us to learn more and move closer to the subject. Ice Cube knows a bit, but not a lot. He contrasts the Eames’ House with McMansions. Palmer isn’t a painter, but she modeled for them. Lisick places herself in the position of someone living with Calder who’s heard all the stories, but doesn’t seem to be part of the Surrealist world.

They bring interesting expertise of their own
Both Ice Cube and Amanda Palmer have actual credentials that allow them to have a different relationship to the subject matter than the audience. Ice Cube may have only studied architectural drafting for a short time, but it’s enough. When he’s talking about prefab wall sections and off-the-shelf windows, you can feel his appreciation for the Eames. When Palmer talks about nude modeling, you can almost hear the hours of standing still, and carry that into the paintings and imagine the process of their creation.

They personalize the subject matter
Back in the day when I worked on audiotours, one of the things I hated about using celebrity narrators was that they were being used for their name recognition, their voice and nothing else. Nothing of the performer came out in the performance. These three pieces all provide the audience with not only insight into the subject matter, but insight into the performer as well. It’s like two for the price of one!

They’re not just reading lines
It’s obvious, but it has to be said. I’ve been through a spate of unfortunate museum videos recently, where some well-meaning curator or director delivers lines like, “We’re very excited to welcome you to…” in a solemn monotone to kick off a video. Painful stuff. Successful narrators can deliver crappy lines and make them engaging. Crappy narrators can kill the best written script. A great narrator with a great script, like the ones above? Magic!

Got any other examples like these? Send ‘em my way!

Filed under: Design process, Reviews Tagged: AFP, Alexander Calder, Amanda Palmer, audience, audiotour, Beth Lisick, design, exhibitions, experience design, Ice Cube, writing

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Planes, trains and automobiles...

open objects - mia ridge - July 13, 2013 - 1:23pm

This week I'm heading to Lincoln, Nebraska for Digital Humanities 2013 (abstracts) (where I'm also doing a half-day workshop on 'Designing successful digital humanities crowdsourcing projects' and attending my first meeting as a member of the ACH Executive Council).

After DH2013, I'm gradually making my way east by Amtrak and Greyhound, ending up at One Week, One Tool ('a digital humanities barn raising'!). I'll be in Chicago from Sunday afternoon (July 21) until late 22nd, arriving in Cleveland on the 23rd and jumping on another bus to Pittsburgh for  July 24-27. If you're going to be nearby and fancy a chat about crowdsourcing, museums or digital history, or have a suggestion for sights I should see, let me know! You can get a sense of my interests at the never-properly updated Upcoming talks and travel and My PhD research.

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Visualizing Network Flows: Library Inter-lending

Hanging Together (RLG) - July 12, 2013 - 8:31pm

Sankey intra-CIC flows

As part of our joint research project with the CIC Center for Library Initiatives and the OSU Library, we’re examining inter-lending flows within and outside of the 13-member CIC consortium. We are using a subset of the OCLC WorldCat Resource Sharing (WCRS) transaction data archive for this analysis. Our current data-set comprises 1.33 million request transactions, representing nearly 900,0000 individual titles loaned by CIC libraries over the past several years.

As Max Klein has noted elsewhere in this blog, the OCLC Research group is starting to experiment with new approaches to data visualization using the R statistical modeling environment and D3 JavaScript code library. (The WorldCat Live prototype is a nice example of how these are being put to use.)  We are eager to integrate some of this experimental work into the ongoing CIC analysis.

Bruce Washburn, Brian Lavoie and I met recently to look at examples in Mike Bostock’s D3 gallery, which provides some great examples of how different visualization techniques can be implemented.  We were looking for examples that were fit to purpose for this particular project.  Since inter-lending is a library-centric approach to balancing supply and demand, Brian suggested that we focus on examples that are particularly expressive for modeling import/export flows. We settled on force-directed graphs and Sankey flow diagrams as good candidates for further exploration. And because we are especially interested in understanding the flow of library resources across geographies, we decided it was worth some additional work to enhance our WCRS transaction dataset with geo-codes, so that we can experiment with mapping flows across regions.

From his experiments with TopicWeb, Bruce has developed some facility with D3 and he is now doing some work with R. But before we run head-long into any new development work, I wanted to do some low-level experimentation to see if the data we have in hand, and the questions we are trying to answer, lend themselves to visualization in Sankey diagrams.

When Brian, Bruce and I met to discuss models, we spent a fair bit of time discussing this diagram of horse import/export activity in Europe. It wasn’t until this week that I realized it had been produced by the prolific blogger and Open Data advocate Tony Hirst (aka @psychemedia, whom I’ve followed on Twitter for a long while) as an experiment in formatting data for Sankey diagrams. His blog post on this topic is great — unfortunately, it’s way beyond my current skill to implement. But in the comments, I noted that Bruce Mcpherson had developed some VBA code that uses Excel as the data input to a D3 Sankey library. This was just what I needed for some quick experimentation with our current data set.

Here are a few illustrative screenshots:

The three-letter symbols correspond to OCLC institution symbols for the 29 CIC collections we are examining in this project.

Sankey sample outbound CIC flows

Another, showing the breakdown of CIC borrowing of CIC returnables:

Sankey sample CIC flows with detail

And a third, this time with some detail for both Non-CIC and CIC borrowers — NB the number of non-CIC borrowers makes it difficult to represent them all in this format, hence the block of ‘others.’

Sankey sample CIC flows with detail non and CIC

Now, these are admittedly primitive pictures of how resources flow out of CIC libraries and into other places — but they do capture some important attributes that we are interested to explore further.  For instance, it is immediately apparent that there are some major ‘sources’ and ‘sinks’ for CIC returnables. And it’s clear that while the demand generated outside the CIC is significant (greater than the demand generated within the consortium), it is extremely diffuse — spread across a population of thousands of libraries.  Both of these are important for understanding for how existing library flows can be optimized. As we refine our analysis, we’ll be examining what factors are driving demand to particular libraries:  proximity of lender, scarcity of alternative supply options, price incentives, efficiency of service (as measured by turn-around) , etc.  And we’ll be looking at new ways to use data visualization to explore — and share — interesting and important patterns in the organization of the library system.

Update:  Thanks to Tony Hirst’s comment (below) and some subsequent Twitter exchanges with @timelyportfolio,

@psychemedia @ramnath_vaidya @ConstanceM sankey plugin is my next project similar to horizon

— klr (@timelyportfolio) July 13, 2013

there is now a very nice tutorial on creating Sankey diagrams using rCharts and d3.  Many thanks to klr and Tony for taking the initiative.

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Futurist Friday: Summer Reading

Center for the Future of Museums [AAM] - July 12, 2013 - 10:20am

Here's what I have stacked on my nightstand. With a month or two lull from work travel, I might actually make it through these before the museum conference schedule revs up in the fall.

"Who Owns the Future?" by Jaron Lanier. I first read about Lanier in an article in the New Yorker a couple years ago. He is a computer scientist who delights in provoking people about the internet in general, and social networking in particular, and their impact on human culture. His last book, "You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto" was a cranky rant on the dehumanizing effect of services like Facebook and Twitter. He's a futurist, too, envisioning the scenarios technologies could create. (He served as an advisor to the dystopian film Minority Report.) In this new book he continues his diatribe on the dangers of the Internet, taking on the exploitative potential and corrosive economy of "Big Data."  Here is a review from the New York Times if you want a preview.

Next in the queue is Marina Gorbis' "The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World." Gorbis is executive director of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, and author of the Odessa to the Future blog. (I follow her on Twitter at @mgorbis.) I suspect, comparing blurbs and reviews, that in this book she offers a counterpoint to Lanier's dark view of the Internet, seeing it instead as a mechanism that undermines the power of large corporations and big government, empowering communities and individuals to create "distributed" solutions to societal challenges. Lucy Bernholz (my go-tweeter and blogger on issues related to philanthropy) just posted a review of this book. 

I'm sharing these titles now, rather than waiting to write reviews (though I may do that as well), in the hopes that some of you may read them along with me, and share your reactions via Twitter (please tag tweets with @futureofmuseums), email, or comments on this post. And please share the books you have lines up for your futurist summer reading. Enjoy!

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff

Both Sides of the Screen: Museums Seeking Balance in a Digital Age

Digital Media and Learning - July 11, 2013 - 1:30pm

Barry Joseph  Museums Seeking Balance in a Digital Age Blog Image

Museums, like many public sites of informal learning, are struggling to understand the roles digital media can play within their walls. In short, are they an obstacle to engagement or a new path to knowledge? I recently saw both ideas reflected in popular media and the experience left me hoping for a third path between the two extremes.

There’s a New Yorker cartoon, published this past March, that shows a mother and child in a museum, the child pointing a device towards a painting. "It's an audio guide, sweetheart," the mother explains, "not a remote." The cartoonist is poking fun at the perceived expectations of today’s youth to use digital tools not just to augment but to interact or participate with the world around them. Depending on your perspective, the tools are either preventing the child from appreciating the museum or enhancing ways of learning the museum is failing to address (Incidentally, my 7-year-old son thought the cartoon was hilarious, as he interpreted it as actually being about the man in the background who "thought the guide was a phone”).

There’s an AT&T ad (right) that shows a woman walking through a museum yet fully connected to her Facebook community as everything around her is transformed into reflections of her digital life. A statue transforms into a girlfriend with her new haircut. “Us girls are going dancing tonight,” an older male guard says to her, mimicking a recent text message. “You in?” The ad, supporting this deep integration, of course wants us all to say, “Yes!” (it is a phone ad after all). But when I showed the ad to my father, who turns 82 this month, and asked him what it was about, he laughed with embarrassment and said he couldn't make heads nor tails of it. To me the ad, on one hand, suggests digital media can create a personalized visit by filtering a museum experience from a hyper-personal angle. On the other hand, it also suggests digital media prevents people from experiencing a direct, unmediated connection with museum content.

The dichotomy between the two, however – the wired versus the unplugged, my son versus my father – is a false one. We all struggle to balance our attention between two sides of the screen. And finding that balance is something museums are currently struggling to achieve. Museums are “caught between contradictory demands for connectivity and contemplation,” says the the recent Future of Museums’ TrendsWatch 2013. The annual report identifies six significant trends in museums. Alongside chapters with names like “3-D Printing” and “When Stuff Talks Back” is “Disconnecting to Reconnect.” As an organization, the Center for the Future of Museums is as “wired” as they come, but even they can’t ignore the Musée d’Orsay banning all photography and what they described as a “backlash against digital immersion and in favor of quiet contemplation and face-to-face contact.”

One way to balance our attention, explored in a follow-up blog entry called “Museo-mindfulness,” is learning to focus our attention in a mindful way. “Perhaps it is time for museums to...become a cultural force for mindfulness, providing refuge in the melee rather than contributing to it.” A museum in Los Angeles offers mindfulness meditation sessions that begin in the classroom and lead into the galleries, and at least two other California museums are following suit. But digital media need not fall at one end of a mindfulness spectrum with connectedness at the other end. The best guide I’ve read to navigating the digital age – Howard Rheingold’s essential Net Smart: How to Thrive Online – tackles the topic head on in the first chapter. “Mindfulness is what connects your attention to skills of digital participation, collaboration,” and the other skills required to “thrive online,” Rheingold argues. And in the section, “Mindfulness in an Always On World,” he writes, “Mindfulness is the most important practice for anyone who is trying to swim through the infostream instead of being swept away by it.”

Rheingold’s third way is neither to romanticize digital affordances nor run in fear from their dark side. Rather, he recognizes that whether faced with either extreme, we, and not the tools, are in charge. The more museums can empower their visitors to control their attention, to be in charge of how the digital mediates their experience, the more museums can contribute towards helping us all find the balance we seek.

Banner image credit: pixelhut

Categories: Museum [Tech] Blogs + Stuff