Category Archives: art museums

Big Trouble in Little Data #musetech

Big data is , well, big thing these days.  Honestly, it has been for a while.  We make so much data by interacting with digital tools.  Daily 2.5 Exabytes are produced every day.  That is the equivalent to 5 million laptops filled to the brim with data. Imagine yourself right now attempting to find one thing in the middle of all of those computers. (You might envy the person seeking the needle in the haystack). So, even with all of these data points, I am making a radical suggestion.  We don’t have enough data.  Or rather, we need to diversify the types of data we collect.

Let’s take this scenario. A visitor decides to participate in a class at your organization.  They use your online ticketing system. Even the worst of online ticketing system gets their name, address with zip code, their preferred class, and their method of payment. (If you don’t at least get this, make a new choice of system). Right now, you have a great deal of data about that patron. And this data is basically quantitative; you can run the numbers on them. You calculate elements that help your audience.  For example, this person is 1 of X number of people from a zip code or one of X number of people who choose Mastercard.

So, let’s get back to our patron, shall we? Then this person arrives at your facility. They drive up to your institution in their shiny teal mini-cooper. They press the button for the ticket, and it doesn’t work.  They press it again.  Finally, a staff parking attendant comes out.  He apologizes and explains that the button they are pressing says “Staff”. They need to press the larger button which says, “Please Press, Dear Visitor”. Mr Parking R. Deck hands the patron the ticket with a smile. Mollified, the patron drives into the parking lot. In this second connection point, there were other data elements playing out. Many questions come to mind immediately. How many times does the visitor try the wrong button before calling the staff? How often do staff get called to explain the buttons?  Is there a correlation between age and misreading the button?  Is there a correlation between height of car and misreading the button?  I could go on…

Most institutions leave this type of data on the table.  It remains anecdotal; the stuff of staff meetings and lunchrooms.  There are several factors for this:

  1. The first might be the word data itself. Data has a mathematical aura that is often segregated to certain fields, like finance and technology. Going into roll call at security, you might seem incredibly radical to ask security to track their “data”. Solution: There needs to be wider understanding across the field of data and the possible sources.
  2. Data only exists if captured. Think about that for a minute. If you are not holding on to it & aggregated it,  there is no data.  Data collection takes time and resources. You need to have tools for collection. You need to train people. Solution: Institutions need to reallocate expectations to change the culture of data.
  3. Data use needs to start with a goal. Right now, many institutions are in the peer pressure phase of data collection; collecting because everyone is doing it. Rather than employing the scientific method that underlies so much of the work of our field, they don’t collect with a goal or thesis in mind. Without a goal, it sure is hard to make a roadmap to that endpoint. Basically, institutions are often wandering in the weed fields of data. Solution: Data literacy needs to include clear education on goal setting.

Making data a part of institutional culture might seem costly, and it would be, but think of this.  There are many members of the museums staff who spend the bulk of their time with visitors, including guards, teaching artists, and visitor experience professional.  Collectively, this is the sector of the museum who tracks the least amount of data.  If you asked any one of them, if they’ve noticed a challenge finding the restroom, they would be able to tell you immediately.  This is also one of the most transient members of our staffing.  They might move up in the field or move out of it.  Either way, their observations remain anecdotes—basically little data.  In order words, institutions throw away what could have been the most valuable data on their clients every day.

Where did the Museum Visitors Go?

Where did the visitors go-

Museum visitorship is down.  You don’t have to believe me.  The NEA, the Art Newspaper, and the Guardian are reputable sources who say just this. Colleen Dillenschneider, wunderkind audience lady, last year wrote extensively about audience declines.  The number of people is tied to the amount of money going into museum operating accounts, both through direct means, like ticket sales, and indirect ones, like grant funds earned based on annual attendance.  Without money, museums can’t operate.  Nonprofit still need some profit to run, of course.

On a bigger level, the decrease in visitorship might be a signal of the declining importance of museums in the public consciousness. This was something Holland Cotter alluded to in his article “How to Fix the Met: Connect Art to Life” for the New York Times. Cotter bemoans the declines in attendance in the Renaissance galleries, once a veritable melee of art-lovers.  In short, Cotter’s feeling is that, despite the best efforts of the education department and the cosmetic improvements to the gallery, the museum is no longer relevant to patrons.  To state it more plainly, since there are no visitors, it means people don’t care anymore.

Now, let’s step away from the Met’s and the attendance problems of the sector.  Think about your recent week.  Did you at any point look your social media feed to find that you were meant to go to an event this evening?  Did you go?  Or did you feign illness only to return home to stream a full season of Midsommer Murders?  I don’t say this to out you as a social misanthrope (not that there is anything wrong with that).  I point out that our society has changed.

Shared experiences are not always sited in communal space. Instead, we are often sharing experiences from the comfort of our homes. Instagram, snapchat, blogging…you can find shared spaces and communities in many non-physical spaces.

So, back to those museum visitors, they might not be hanging out in the Renaissance galleries of the Met.  But, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t engaging.  The MetMuseum’s twitter has 2.6 million followers, as of today.  I love the Met’s Renaissance collection (the Merode altarpiece is why I am in this career), but I would be amazed if there were 2.6 million folks milling in those spaces on any given day back in the good days of museums.

People are staying home.  They are not necessarily leaving the institutions they used to visit; they are visiting them in other ways.  They are watching ballgames at home. As my mother says, ballgames at home can replay all the good angles of the strike (it was a ball), and you don’t have to deal with drunk people.  They are playing movies on their tablets.  And, they are accessing museum collections on Instagram.

So, in many ways, if the museums want to connect to people, first they need to realize it might not totally matter where all the visitors went. They, like you, museum professional, are at home with a computer, tablet, and phone all accessing information and ideas from sources they trust and enjoy.

Second, museums might reach across the leisure sector to see what sorts of things draw people to other things.  As a Clevelander, I can tell you that being part of it still brings people out.  The Cavs playoffs filled downtown and the parade was a juggernaut worthy of that word.  But,  those same people spent weeks being Cavs fan from the comfort of their home (tickets aren’t easy to get, man).  In other words, people will come but only sometimes.  How are other kinds of leisure institutions are doing it? What are their measures of success? When are they okay with people accessing them from home? Let’s look around and benchmark folks.

The visitors might not come back to the physical galleries every time.  They might come for a blockbuster.  But, that doesn’t mean that they have a more shallow connection to the institution.  It might mean they are connecting differently.

 

 

 

Interieur met kaartspelend gezelschap, Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-27.865

Interieur met kaartspelend gezelschap, Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-27.865

The Danish word hygge is hard to translate.  Books like the Little Book of Hygge, often translate the word as coziness.  These authors go on to share how that word is but a scarce approximation of its actual meaning.  This Danish cultural norm, a sort of way of being, is central to that nation’s high level of happiness.

Currently Pinterest is alight with hygge with pictures of arm knit blankets, roaring fires, and mugs of warm coffee.  Strictly speaking, hygge is about home life, but there are certain tenets that could help make art museum’s more appealing.

Create Sanctuary

Sanctuary is a place of refuge or safety.  Art museums can feel like a sanctuary for those who already feel comfortable there.  But, there are unspoken codes of behavior.  Innocently point at artwork and you might catch the ire of a guard.  Bring a selfie stick, and you will meet another guard.  Should you wish to find a restroom, you will likely need to find another guard to help you find the way.  The signs are so subtle that they fade into the background.  In many ways, the challenge for museums is that they are only sanctuaries for those who are already initiated.  Yet, most museums profit, both fiscally and culturally, from attendance.  So, how can they help others see these spaces as a sanctuary?

Belonging is Key

Belonging is a central element in hygge. When you belong, you feel comfortable participating in the experience. Belonging is hard for museums, in certain ways.  Museums has many special interest groups, starting with the trustees, and moving down to the members. These groups often revel in their connection to the museum, and why shouldn’t they, as they paid for the privilege.

How can museums make all people feel like they belong in the museum community? This is the big question for museums.  There is no one golden bullet, oh if there was.  But, there are small steps.  Let’s go back to the guards.  They are basically the hosts to this party.  They spend more time with the visitors than any other department.  The Walker Art Museum has a wonderful staff, dressed in t-shirts and broad smiles, who makes sure to place welcoming visitors and safeguarding the art as equally important.

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), Met Museum 56.70a-c

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), Met Museum 56.70a-c

Human Scale

The human touch is essential in hygge.  Think about your most convivial moments in life.  There was the food, the décor, the music.  Or was it the people, their stories, their laughter.  People turn settings into stories.  In large spaces, the quality of human interaction is dissipated.  In intimate, human-sized spaces, you can engage with people in direct ways.  This is the same with art.  Small spaces encourage connectivity.  For better or for worse, I became an art historian because of the Cloisters.  In high school, I trekked to see the oil paintings in their glory.  I still remember stepping through a tiny door into an irregularly shaped room to gaze upon the Merode altarpiece.  This small work, resplendent in its workmanship, seemed to fill the space.

Human scale is not just about architecture.  Few museums have the architecture of the Cloisters.  Human scale is also about choosing to employ the space in ways that focus on people.  Seating groupings imply that one should linger.  Legible labels, rather than tiny print, implies that one should read.

In its essence, hygge is about setting the stay for most people to have an enjoyable experience.  In many ways, most art museums focus on installing art with an eye towards education and learning with little concern for the visitor’s pleasure. Yet, how can people learn if they don’t linger?

 

The Near-Future of Museum Education for K-12 Audiences

FutureEducationInfographic

 

This afternoon I had the privilege of participating in the North Carolina Museum of Art’s project, #NCMAAsk (search twitter for more), which is focused on museums, technology, and the future.  There were a number of issues that came up, but, many of them centered around hearing, listening, and flexibility.

Museums in their partnership with schools have can serve as advocates for students and teachers, but only if they are creating programming, experiences, resources, and spaces that respond to their needs.  In terms of advocating for teachers, it includes helping them out, it includes offering teachers the language that they can use to communicate the importance of the arts to their higher ups. It terms of advocating for students, it is about creating and implementing curriculum that is student centered.

Museums have the lucky position of being outside of the school’s systems.  They don’t have the same rules and museum experiences don’t end in grades.  We don’t know who is the smart student, the weird kid, or the screw up.  A good museum educator takes all of the kids where they come, and brings them all into the experience.  On an even footing, but in a totally different learning experience, a totally different kid might find themselves as the smart kid.  In museums, K-12 classrooms get the chance to visit an alternate learning universe, if it is even for one hour.

I was asked to me an oracle of the future of education.  I think there are some big issues, such as competency-based education and the complete restructuring of the grade-level system.  I think museums, with their high-quality digital tools, apps, and powerful search engines, will be poised to be right there at the horizon of education.  But, I am more focused on the closer targets.  In the short term, I am focused on how to deepen engagement through multi-visit experiences, as well as the ways that after school education can be impacted by museums. Also, I am interested to think about the ways that museums can use technology to augment K-12, such as through distance learning, online learning, and simulations.

Finally, individualized learning is already happening every where.  Phones are tools for learning and creativity.  Museums can employ them in gallery spaces with students. But, this requires the staff being comfortable with these tools and finding authentic ways to use them.  Taking the students lead, so allowing them to search on their phones when they are researching something in the galleries, is a great way to use mobile as a tool.

How do you actually make a game?

MakingAGameDesigning a game? Well, there are many ways to start, but, in essence, you want to think about some big issues:

1. What is your goal? What do you want your players to get out of it? What is your project goal? How does it relate to your game goal?

2. Where are you going to play this? In the galleries, or out? Both? Why did you choose that space? What does the game play have to do with that space? 

3. How much can you spend? Think money and time. Do you have the staff to make the game? Play the game? Maintain the same?

4. Who is playing this game? Who is your audience? What do they like to do? How do you know? What are their limitations? What are their strengths? 

Also, each answer effects the answers to each of the other questions.  In other words, think wholistically. As you answer each question, reflect on your ideas.  

After thinking about those big issues, you then need to expect to take lots of time developing, testing, and iterating.  A seamless game often has hours and hours of prep time to get to that perfect game play.

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For my other posts on games:

Why play games?

Guide to Museum Games

Game Development Tutorial 

Vine Interface–An Orientation

Vine offers a clean interface, but that might mean you need a little extra orientation to get started.

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My vines can be found here.

I have written a series of short posts about Vine. Enjoy:
Vine Video for Museums: Post 1
How can Museum Educators use Vine?
The Right Audience for Vine
Fostering Participation in Vines
Vine to Share the Museum Experience
Narrative in Vine
Looking at Art through Vine
Vine on Your Own
Vine Interface—An Orientation
Vine Basics
Vine and Audio
Stop Motion Tips

I produced these posts as notes in preparation for co-writing this paper for Museums and the Web 2014, with Alli Burness, @Alli_Burnie; Patty Edmonson, @Retrograde_D; and Chad Weinard, @caw_

Our presentation Vine feed is here.

Our workshop in April, 2014 sparked some good conversation, see the Storify.

Many of our participants made some wonderful Vines, check these out.

Stop Motion Tips

I love anthropomorphizing things. Dancing bananas, singing teapots, talking shoes… So, this lifelong love is my excuse for loving the stop motion culture of Vines. I love the idea of potatoes up and becoming stamps without any human intervention. Or the fact that magic helped you make a silkscreen with drawing fluid.

Stop motion needs most of the frame to remain constant while aspects of the frame change incrementally. The illusion is better when many small increments of change are done in many shots. But, this requires patience and time. I can’t say I have either, but I have still been able to get some satisfying stop motion videos.

Here are a few tips to help you get started with stop motion:

You need something that keeps your phone still and in the same place. A tripod is best, but you can improvise, say with a book and tape.

Lighting can be a tell. Because stop motion takes a lot longer than 6 seconds, you might find yourself shooting frames over the span of hours. With strong light, say from a window, changes in the light will indicate long elapses of time. Artificial light remains constant, and creates a more seamless effect.

Framing devices help you with stop motion. If you are doing a craft video, a cutting board can serve not only as a constant and a framing device for the craft supplies above it.

Ghost, ghost, ghost. Patty E. has some good videos showing the ghost function. Essentially, it shows a faint image of the previous frame to serve as a guide for your current frame. Without it, you are creating stop motion blind to the previous frame.

Save time for your final shot. You are often so excited that you got everything in, and you tap just once for that final shot. But, in reality for a satisfying video, you really need to give that final shot at least double the time of any of your earlier increments. This of it as your final scene rather than just a shot. Let your viewers see your satisfaction rather than your exhaustion.

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My vines can be found here.

I have written a series of short posts about Vine. Enjoy:
Vine Video for Museums: Post 1
How can Museum Educators use Vine?
The Right Audience for Vine
Fostering Participation in Vines
Vine to Share the Museum Experience
Narrative in Vine
Looking at Art through Vine
Vine on Your Own
Vine Interface—An Orientation
Vine Basics
Vine and Audio
Stop Motion Tips

I produced these posts as notes in preparation for co-writing this paper for Museums and the Web 2014, with Alli Burness, @Alli_Burnie; Patty Edmonson, @Retrograde_D; and Chad Weinard, @caw_

Our presentation Vine feed is here.

Our workshop in April, 2014 sparked some good conversation, see the Storify.

Many of our participants made some wonderful Vines, check these out.