Tag Archives: TiTA

co-curating the museum brand

Museums are among my favorite things in the world. When I travel, that’s what I look for first: the museums.

While I’m intensively partial to the classic fine arts model, I also very much enjoy a good science museum, and am frankly plain nuts for historical homes and preserved sites.

I love museums because they are some of the most fascinating, complex, and revealing instruments we use to tell ourselves stories about ourselves. How we choose to tell those stories, and which stories we choose to tell, is endlessly interesting to me. (Also, this book basically spells out my central childhood fantasy for all to see.)

I spent some time this weekend at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and it helped me pick up the threads of a conversation I’ve been having with myself since last fall, when I went to the Technology in the Arts conference in Pittsburgh and saw Jake Barton give a keynote on how he was working with museums to design truly interactive exhibits and exhibit space.

Some museums are in the forefront of exploring how social media can help make their storytelling more inclusive, more democratic, more reflective of the many voices rather than the few — all of which either leads to a richer and deeper story, or to a narrative that is confusing and nonlinear to the point of distraction, depending on how successfully it is executed.

Some are holding tightly to the traditional model of storytelling, keeping it in the hands of the few, the specialized, the elite.

So I’ve been thinking about branding, and how cultural institutions like museums go about creating and managing their brands, especially in the changing dynamics of today’s distributed, interactive, co-created world.

How does a museum, with a (presumably) carefully constructed brand, often based largely on its carefully curated collection (whatever that may be), invite its patrons to co-curate that brand? Is that even a desirable goal? Does it depend on the museum, or the type of museum?

How are other museums besides the ones I mentioned here going about answering, or not answering, these questions?

What do you think social media can, or should do, to transform how museums tell our collective story, how they hold their individual mirrors up to ourselves?

I am still having this conversation with myself, but I thought I’d open the floor for discussion. What do you think?

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room for improvement

Another busy day at the Technology in the Arts conference, one which finally required me to stop in my tracks and take an unscheduled break in the form of a much-needed nap this afternoon.  When I emerged back into the fray just before dinner, I noticed that I wasn’t alone in having noticed a few elements that have been mysteriously absent from this otherwise highly enjoyable gathering.

1.  If there is an online, real-time gathering place for this conference, then we just don’t know about it.  It seems very odd that an arts & technology conference wouldn’t have a live blog, a group blog, a wiki, or some form of online community space.  I’ve noticed several if not many attendees live-blogging and live-twittering the workshops, and it’s weird not to have a central place for all that thought, feedback, and commentary.

2.  Although it’s clear that at least one ulterior motive for hosting this conference is to show off the Center for Arts Management and Technology, there has been a surprising lack of actual information given to attendees about the program, any research projects that may be going on, the mission, goals, and plans of the organization, or even a pitch for applicants in the graduate program that certainly seems like it would be of interest to this self-selected group.  It just seems like a lost opportunity.  God knows that if it were my conference, you would walk out of here knowing who we were and what we did and why that was important to the field as a whole — and how you could get involved in our work.  Right now all I can say I know about CAMT is that they are based at Carnegie Mellon University, and they put on this swell conference every year.

3.  Speaking of if this were my conference, I’ve noticed that they seem to struggle with a challenge that my organization has recently faced as well at our annual regional conference — addressing the different levels of experience and proficiency of their attendees.  I sat in one workshop today where I was told at the beginning that if I were live-blogging or live-twittering the workshop, I didn’t really belong there — that I was already too advanced.  Not that there shouldn’t be a basic survey of Web 2.0 tools for beginners (as this was), but how about a simultaneous workshop for those of us who are already on every social networking site we’ve heard of — perhaps one dealing with managing mutliple SoNets, crafting a master SoNet plan for your organization, or even (my favorite) pitching the value of SoNets to your board or senior staff.  It’s important to realize, as the conference grows and evolves, that if you only offer beginner-level material, you are robbing yourself of return customers, as they head elsewhere to seek intermediate and advanced material.  And they’re doing a great job here — there’s no reason they can’t work in parallel tracks for different levels of expertise, and do it well.

4.  It would have been really nice to have received a list of attendees and their affiliations prior to arrival on site, as it were, so that we could make the most out of our networking opportunities.  Better still would have been a list that included email contacts for all attendants.  Of course, this sort of communication could have also been handled very easily if there was a group blog or wiki for the conference.  I could have posted on the group site that I wanted to have coffee during the break with other folks interested in open source CMS, for instance, or asked if anyone wanted to go for Indian food for lunch and talk about building artist exchange programs, or share a cab back to the airport in the morning and talk about how much we’d like to work with/for Jake Barton.  (Just for example.)  It really would have been helpful, of actual practical use, and it just makes sense for a technology conference to be a bit more “hooked up.”

These were the things I heard several people gab about at the VIP reception and the close-out bash tonight, and I had to admit that I had these thoughts as well.  Again, I empathise with the coordinators — it’s impossible to do everything, and I can tell that they are a small and dedicated army pulling off a pretty impressive feat (and the quality of the hotel and dedicated shuttle are VERY nice touches that I do not want to minimize!), but they could certainly harvest some of the energy and talent of their attendees next year by asking if anyone is interested in, say, setting up, talking up, and even gardening an online presence for the conference.  And yeah, sure, I guess maybe I am volunteering.

 Got to put one’s money where one’s mouth is and all that rot, you know.

great conference, unfortunate acronym

The Technology in the Arts conference is a hit — at least with me.  It is indescribably refreshing to be among other technologically-inclined folks who work in the arts, just like me.  I realize that this is the real, secret reason to go to these conferences, to maintain your tribal membership and get your annual secret decoder ring (talk about useful technology), but it’s one thing to know it and quite another thing to experience it.

Enjoyed a very chatty lunch with Dee Schneidman of the New England Foundation for the Arts, whom I had met once before a year or so ago.  Our organizations are similar in many ways, and so the bulk of the (highly enjoyable) conversation consisted of one of us verbalizing a challenge we are facing, to which the other would respond I know!

So satisfying!

Speaking of satisfying, my first workshop of the day was a nice, juicy, hands-on crash course in podcasting that resulted in my walking out of there thinking I can totally do THAT!  We played around with a short MP3 file in Audacity, created a musical intro with podsafe music, even bleeped out an (actual) expletive.  Very fun, very demystifying, lots of information in a short, entertaining format.

Then, after lunch, we were treated to a keynote talk by Jake Barton of Local Projects, the design studio responsible for Story Corps, the National September 11 Memorial Museum, and more unspeakably interesting projects.  The thought that kept running through my mind during his presentation was this is making me feel like this is the best and most exciting possible field to be in right now.

And what more could you want from a keynote?  Free chocolate?

This was followed by a delightful dinner with Len Edgerly, coincidentally also affiliated with NEFA, with whom I shared still more commiseration, brainstorming, and twitter accounts.  Both this conversation and a few earlier in the day stirred up some interesting new thoughts on scaling some of the bigger, broader-brush-stroke technologies like Digg and Twitter into a more locally-focussed application that I plan to develop my thinking on a little and post about later.  Right now, more ruminating and tossing around of wild ideas is called for.