The idea of an empathetic museum, one that is there for the people in a time of crises, went hand in hand with the topic of the day: the virtual museum. Now, one might wonder what is the connection. The answer to that lies in the museum making its content available to the public. There are many things that prevent access to a museum. Allowing online or outside access sidesteps the physical need to be there. The question is then what can museums offer outside of their doors? Libraries in times of crises have opened their doors and given safety to the public in times of need (see Baltimore Public library and New York Public Libraries). Museums have not been as helpful during times of crises, but there are other cultural ways that they have helped out. Museums have tried in other ways to still be pertinent public institutions in the eyes of the public. The museum has developed connections for many people outside its physical museum walls. This week’s blog will focus on what museums have to offer, outside, for each and every type of person.
For the researcher, student, scholar or straight up history junky, many museums offer online access to their archives, collections and other available manuscripts and documents. No matter who you are or why you want to view them these services are usually offered for free (after signing up). Additionally, many resources are available for teachers who are bringing their students to the institution, for resources that help pre-visit and after. Others museums are offering learning experiences for the average person such as Smart history offered by the Kahn Academy, that not only offers free art education but also offers free classes for almost every single subject.
They also cater to those who would rather connect through an online forum by allowing them to now connect through online communities hosted by the museum’s website. For example, the Shakespeare Translator Group was a great way for people who love Shakespeare to unite, both online and also occasionally physical meetups, to meet people who share their love and help translate olde English. This can also be seen in the community that was built around the Brooklyn Museum exhibit Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition. In this exhibit, people couldn’t see what exactly other people were doing, but they were all connected as one community, voting on what they thought defined Brooklyn best.
The next level of output is the digital media that museums put out through their assorted platforms. There are many museums that are active on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms, posting content and pictures for the public to consume and enjoy. Some museums still do podcasts, either through their website or ItunesU. Others like the MOMA have their own Youtube channels where they upload videos documenting their work or their artists’ works. Many times the reason they are doing so is to show the public all the work that really goes on behind the scenes and to reveal the “invisible hand”.
Then museums try to connect with apps, in the hopes that through it they can funnel content towards their viewers. Many museum apps, like the Guggenheim, are supposed to be used in tandem with a physical visit to the museum. Others, like the Magic Tate Ball app, allow users to access the art from any place on Earth. Others use augmented reality and virtual reality apps to use both in the museum and outside. The Woofbert app allows visitors to view a museum collection through VR app for Samsung gear.
Other museums use new technology, called immersive technology, to create websites that allow the users to get deep into the content all in the comfort of their own homes. The Remembering Lincoln website allows users to view and respond to contemporary thoughts on the assassination of Lincoln in 1963. Through this website, users can learn things not necessarily meant for the researcher or scholar. Similarly, the Met’s online Heilbronn Timeline allows a new level of interactivity to learning. By being given so many different novel ways of accessing thousands of years of art, the museums allows viewers to not only search art keywords with ease but also to search by place, time or people and be able to connect to items like it with ease.
Other innovators, like Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier, have created what is called a “distributed digital experience,” an experience using multi- dimensional, multi personal, multi experience experience, without using anything digital. In their walkabout outside Banqueting House, they created a device that lets users listen to those had once populated the now Lost Palace. The device that they created is so genius because it allows us access to something that without technology would be lost to us. Additionally, because it is not an app on a Smartphone, tablet, Ipad or an electronic device, visitors pay more attention to what they are hearing and seeing around them as opposed to users who would use an app and be completely enveloped in the screen and not focus on what’s in front of them.
All the examples that have been brought up so far have been digital in some or all aspects. However, some museums have even been successful in bringing their museum to the museum without anything digital. The Riding the Rails exhibit going around in a mobile truck took he exhibit away from the building and brought it to events and places to give open access to those that otherwise maybe would not be able to go to the museum. The Philadelphia Public History Truck, another example of mobile non-digital access, is a mobile museum defying traditional notions of access and engagement issues via community curating, creating a mobile culture of civic engagement in Philadelphia’s public spaces. While for whatever reasons museums were not there to help during past disasters like libraries were, in regards to opening up cultural content and mobile availability museums keep trying and developing new ways to grant more public access.