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Keywords: issues and ideas, news

It has become something of a cliché to say that in the world of Wikipedia and the sheer mass of information available on the Web, the role of the individual expert is being supplanted by the amateur/expert collective. Yet consider how these structural shifts change museums, especially with the increasing pressure to go digital. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York recently added a Digital Media Department. Its first project "Connections" aims to bring multiple voices to the visitor's experience. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, founded in 2005 without objects or a building, is opening its doors on the Web before the physical construction of the museum begins. It is also using the web to gather both a virtual and physical collection. The goal is to make "a museum for its visitors and by its visitors". At the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the show "Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects" came out of a visitors' blog (Alexandra Cheney "At MoMA, A Blog Becomes a Show" Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog at http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/, July 23, 2011). (more)

Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, and author of the blog Museum 2.0 argues that going digital "removes authority from the content provider [museum/curator] and places it in the hands of the user [audience/visitor]." Motivating these choices is the desire for greater interactivity - a buzzword circulating equally in museums and the ivory tower in the context of digital projects assumed to be, by their nature, more engaging than traditional methods of presenting information. "Connections" is a suggestive choice for the title of the Met project and the NMAAHC is in many ways a collaboration between the museum and its many audiences (Kate Taylor, "The Thorny Path to a National Black Museum" NYTimes, January 22, 2011) while the MoMA show aims to embody a 21st-century culture that it explicitly defines as interaction-centered. Digital media's models of interaction also inform the new BMW Guggenheim Lab project, open in New York City through October 16. The Lab stages a group game called Urbanology, which can be played live or online, and smacks of web-based worlds like Second Life. In Urbanology visitors role-play scenarios that invoke the challenges facing modern urban life and have the opportunity to build an imagined city that matches their specific needs.

The assumption that the digital museum breaks down barriers by enabling audiences to drive museum narratives spurs the development of ever more sophisticated technology (Zoe Fox, "5 Ways Museums Are Reaching Digital Audiences" @mashable.com, August 11, 2011), such as the QR "quick response" codes now present in many an exhibit, or the app launched last year by the Museum of Natural History in New York, which "allows you to chart your own course" with a type of in-museum GPS. Yet some critics argue these experiences turn out to be both more directive and more distancing than conventional models of reaching visitors (Edward Rothstein "From Picassos to Sarcophagi, Guided by Phone Apps" NYTimes, October 1, 2010; although cf the response by Shelley Bernstein, Manager of Information Systems at the Brooklyn Museum, posted on the Museum's community blog).

Jennifer Kingsley


Keywords: announcements

Come meet us Friday August 26 in Gilman 313. First session at 1PM; second session at 1:30PM. Learn about the program and its upcoming events, courses and new opportunities to get involved in museums.

Jennifer Kingsley


In August Emily Sneff returned to Baltimore after a museum-packed summer in London. While in England, she took a course that went behind the scenes of the Museum of London, and was able to catch the British Museum's installation of the exhibit "Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe" (the third for the show that started at the Cleveland Museum of Art and was at the Walters Art Museum this Spring). In Fall 2010 Emily was among the students in the M&S course "Walking with Reliquaries" who had the chance to work with Associate Curator Martina Bagnoli on an audio tour for the Walters' installation of the exhibit. [more]

She is currently reasearching 17th-19th century books for Earle Havens at the Peabody Library and will be returning to the Walters as a Robert and Nancy Hall intern to work with Martina Bagnoli this Fall.

Jennifer Kingsley


Keywords: internships, students

Gabrielle Barr is finishing up her internship at the Thomas J. Watson library of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she is getting hands-on experience in all aspects of cataloguing. She also helps twice a week with the Watson's ongoing, major digitization project and recently experienced the impressive process of joining with the entire staff to dismantle the card catalog.

Jennifer Kingsley


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