Digital Media Blog
discussing all things digital @ Amgueddfa Cymru.
Brought to you by the digital media team: Dafydd, Chris, Dave, Kay, Sara, Rhodri and Graham.
Museum of Television and Radio & Digital Knowledge Ventures
My visit to the Museum of Television and Radio was an alien experience to me. They explained as I entered how it worked - you could view screenings which are at certain times of the day, then visit their library of television shows and films. They also had a choice of 5 radio programs running on loop all day
This was very strange as there were no artifacts - at least none I'd seen. Unfortunately I missed the museum tour which started in the gallery downstairs. I ventured upstairs just in time for a show's screening. There are several rooms so you can pick and choose throughout the afternoon (it's only open from 12pm).
Later on I visited the library, which (as they explained) allows you to choose 2 shows or films to watch in a private booth. These booths were great - and they would be fantastic for any large film archive
I also visited Vivian at Digital Knowledge Ventures, which is part of Columbia University. They have done some great work for museums, including many websites and interactive touchscreens (using Director). I've got a lot to look at when I get back, especially one of their current projects for the Library of Congress.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum
I visited 2 museums today up on New York's Museum Mile (5th Ave). Not all museums are open on a Monday so it's worth planning beforehand. I visited the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum.
The Guggenheim is a stunning piece of architecture, but unfortunately I couldn't enjoy it's exterior much as the building is undergoing some renovations. Still there was plenty of art to enjoy, with some very famous paintings on display. The interpretive technology in the galleries is very minimal - a digital signage system in the foyer is about all I could find. There are some very striking audio-visual installations though, with all the technology carefully hidden. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to visit the Sackler Center, which is described as a 'learning laboratory'.
The Jewish Museum is currently holding an exhibition on new photography and video art. In one part there was an interesting use of large LCD displays on stands arranged into a circle, where you could sit in the middle and watch multiple streams of videos at the same time. Each system seemed to be running from separate machines, though still in sync! I like their Goodkind Media Center, which houses PCs with web-based access to new media and video archives.
Yesterday's visit to the Brooklyn Museum gave us much food for thought. We met with Nicole, who works within the exhibition department. They are finding effective ways of interpreting the collections without affecting the integrity of the exhibition. Projects like 'Graffiti' have been very popular within the community, as they have been incorporating social networking tools like Flickr.
Policing the comments must be quite hard work, but ultimately worth it. The online community they have built up is an important contact point for the Museum, and they are careful not to abuse this trust with too much marketing.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Today we met with Matt from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who is the General Manager of the website. It was a very insightful meeting, and I think Chris and I gained much from speaking with him. Apart from discussing databases and user tagging, we also talked about the difficulties of developing web projects in a museum. It was quite refreshing to see that even one of the largest museums in the USA has some similar issues to us!
After the meeting we went for a wander round the vast museum and looked at one of the few interactives they have (a labelling system). The museum has a huge collection, with some very famous works of art on display (that even I recognised!).
Museums in New York
Yesterday I visited New York's National Museum of the American Indian, which is also a Smithsonian Institute museum. On entering the building the first thing that strikes you is the Rotunda (and oval room)which has the exhibitions leading off it. You are also welcomed by a flash-based (I think) display letting you know what exhibitions are available and what events are coming up.
The exhibits were very good, and well designed. I especially enjoyed the contemporary 'Off the Wall' exhibition, which had a slick video presentation by Erica Lord. They also had contemplation areas between exhibitions, which is a nice touch.
I also went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where the original core exhibition (built 1997) is still very engaging. Though I felt there was a lot to digest, the artifacts are fascinating and the videos give a lot of very interesting oral history.
Today I visited the American Museum of Natural History, which is apparently the world's largest museum of it's kind. There was plenty to see and do there, even though any of the galleries were off-limits. I particularly liked the Hall of Planet Earth, and the Hall of Biodiversity which provided plenty of audio visual things for me to look at - and some effective ways of using touchscreens.
As we were only a day in Washington, we decided to make the most of it. We visited 3 museums, which was quite a task - especially considering the size of them!
Our first visit was to the National Air and Space Museum, which housed a lot of airplanes that have been built over the ages. As well as that, they had a lot of space exhibits, where you can appreciate the scale of the shuttles from just seeing the nozzle from a rocket! Even though the place was extremely busy, you could find your way through the crowds easily enough due to the scale of the place. Interactives were scattered about the place, though many were ageing computers and screens. Some of them were in need of a refresh.
Next we went to the National Museum of the American Indian. Opened in 2004, this stunning museum seemed to have it all - engaging exhibits, interesting architecture and a very nice cafe! We would have spent more time there if possible. There were some consoles that had a similar labelling system to that I developed in Oriel 1, though I have to admit these were better executed. I'm not sure whether they accessed content dynamically though.
Finally we went to the National American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery, and again we were short on time. But before it closed we managed to see some very impressive works of art, and we could take photos of the permanent collections. Though I didn't see any interactives in the gallery, I know that they're doing some good stuff online.
More in Minneapolis and St Paul
Yesterday we visited a couple of great museums in the metro area. First we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). We had a very insightful meeting with Willy Lee, the webmaster at MIA. He told us some of the great ideas he has to incorporate social networking into MIA's website. Things like user tagging, which allows the users to tag objects to help with searches. They are ahead of us in getting their collections online, but they don't have as complicated a database structure as we do at National Museum Wales. The MIA is well worth a visit - online for their resources, and physically for the incredible artworks they have in their collections.
We also took the time to cram in a visit to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St Paul, which was a mix of Techniquest and the Science Museum (UK). They had a lot of fun interactives that kept Chris and I occupied for hours, using various technologies from video streams to PCs and microscopes! They also had some very nice high resolution screens, which gave me some digital signage ideas. I hope I can get in touch with one of their staff, as I'd be interested to see what kind of resources they have to support their extensive interactive setup.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
We had a very successful day today. We met up with Nate and Brent from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It's good to meet with people similar to us - they have built most of their interactive installations and web projects in house. Many museums and galleries in the USA outsource much of their work, at least that's the impression I got from the Museums and the Web conference.
The Walker Arts team have gained a reputation for blogging, as they were one of the early adopters of the format. It was a learning curve for them - they intended to roll it out across departments, but before they could do that they needed to understand the software better. And what better way than to use it?
It turned out that their New Media Initiatives blog is the second most popular blog on the Walker Arts website. It seems that this is due to peers being extremely interested in what the team were developing. Which is how I found out about their work, and I ended up visiting the center. And I live about 3900 miles away.
We spoke at length about our respective organisations' websites. There were some things that both Chris and I liked about their system. We also got to look behind the scenes at some audio-visual installations, and I ended up taking photos of their racks! Chris or I might post more technical details of how we compared in time.
Nate has sorted a meeting out for us in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts tomorrow, and we'll hopefully visit the Science Museum of Minnesota if we have time.
At MW2007 staff from the Whitney Museum of American Art examined the development and integration of the Collect Art tool into the Learning@Whitney web-site design from a practical, pedagogical and technical perspective.
Chuck Barger from Interactive Knowledge, Inc (USA) who designed the site with the Whitney staff gave us a brief introduction to the technical and navigation side of the site. I was impressed with what I saw and took the time to explore the site myself. The site is divided into Teachers, Kids and Teens. You can pour through their catalogue of works, zooming in to very high resolution. We were told that there were some copyright issues with the site, as I suspected.
As well as quality images the site has content to match - there are guidelines for teachers to follow. Not only does each artwork provide teachers with plenty of curriculum links, but also ideas for projects and llinks to further resources. Of course not all teachers need this guidance, but it does provide the site with mass appeal.
Examples of what teachers put together showed diverse ways of using the website, from printouts and collages to electronic presentations. I'm looking forward to visiting the Whitney and picking their brains a little further.
Usability and Accessibility
The conference is over now, and we're into the next leg of the journey, which is to visit more museums over here and look a bit deeper into what they're doing.
Some of the interesting sessions I should mention (and I'll end up writing about a few more) include an accessibility workshop hosted by Stephen Browne from De Montfort University and Brian Kelly of UKOLN, and a usability lab from Paul Marty at Florida State University and Michael Twidale at the University of Illinois.
In the usability lab, volunteers were asked to navigate a set of museum sites with a purpose in mind - planning a wedding, looking up botanical information, etc - not having visited those sites before. There were little struggles with navigation, wording of links, placement of information and so on which the designers hadn't anticipated.
Our site wasn't one of the sites that was examined, but it does make me think about how we plan our new collections-based area. We're hoping to offer more interactivity and the navigation will be based on categories, time periods, activities and other criteria. It'll be different from the rigid hierarchy of the rest of the site, so there's a lot of new accessibility and usability issues for us to deal with.
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