Categories
Conceptual

Hello 2017. Recapping 2016.

As has been the tradition, welcoming in 2017 began with a playing gig at Kooky’s (almost nearly) annual New Years’ Day party. There’s nothing more bacchanalian or comforting than sweating it out in one of Sydney’s longest running safe spaces. And, sadly, it looks likely that over the coming years those safe spaces are going to be more important for many communities – and not just as places where people like myself have the luxury of visiting as ‘allied tourists’.

For many of my friends, especially those not in Australia, 2016 was a tough year. 2017 is already starting out like it might be similar.

For me, 2016 was a year of reacquainting with Australia, discovering new things in Melbourne, and in the museum world, shifting roles and priorities.

It turns out that my part of Melbourne is pretty great. Good public transport, good public services, and work that is making a difference. When I started at ACMI there were a sense that the organisation was, compared to many other museums, pretty high functioning – and I was a little concerned that building momentum to do ‘different things’ would be considered as being ‘just for the sake of it’. Fortunately it hasn’t felt like that – at least not all the time. The team and concentric circles radiating out from the team have been generous and interested – willing to take a risk. As a result it feels like a lot has been achieved – even if most of that ‘achievement iceberg’ is well below the water line. A bunch of writings sit over at labs.acmi.net.au that discuss some of the ‘above the waterline’ projects whilst some of the VR and game-related things are still undocumented. Hopefully over 2017 I’ll be able to reveal some of the scale of that iceberg and where it is now drifitng . . . the vision is no less bold than that at Cooper Hewitt.

Australia, as I reminded myself in the 2015 wrap up, is very far from the rest of the world. While I didn’t get back to the East Coast to visit my Smithsonian friends, I did catch up with many at Museums and the Web in LA in April. On that trip I realised that as Museums and the Web turned 20, I’d been to 10 of them – and more than a couple of the ‘new’ themes were, in fact, slight variations on the themes that were being tackled a decade earlier. Sometimes this meant new perspectives and new approaches, but more often than not it felt like the next generation repeating the errors of the last. No doubt this happens cyclically. Following MW2016 I spent a week at UCLA as one of the guests for their Cultural Analytics & UX Design and got genuinely excited about some of the new ways mathematicians are thinking about cultural products, and what digital humanists are doing to problematize a purely algorithmic approach.

I was lucky enough to spend even more time in LA doing the Getty Leadership Institute in June – thanks mostly to the recommendation and nudging of Janet Carding, and the generosity of my ACMI colleagues to let me be away from the office for an extended period of introspection. More than anything, the course solidified my commitment to the field. There were plenty of personally challenging moments for everyone on the course – we all were emotionally exhausted afterwars but the new friends made around the world during it have been a truly supportive and diverse bunch. On the one afternoon when we were left to oursleves, I headed back into central LA and finally got to check out the Museum of Broken Relationships. A versioning of the Zagreb original, its a great ‘reading’ experience – with the stories bringing each donated object to life – and one that made be think of Fiona Romeo’s long ago comment on visitors ‘not coming to museums to read 40,000 word books while standing up’. In this case I think I looked at labels for far more time than the objects at Broken Relationships, and didn’t feel bad about it at all. Following the Institute, amongst other things, I’ve decided to start formally mentoring a number of ’emerging professionals’ – and am increasingly committed to building the next generation of culture workers – we’re going to need them.

The latter half of the year had much less travel except for three trips to New Zealand – my first return to NZ for about 6 years. I was once again reminded of the splendid people who work in our sector over there – and felt that there had been a genuine cultural transformation in the years between visits. Bi-culturalism felt deeper and far more embedded in daily life and although deep structural inequalities remain, New Zealand seems to have pulled much further away from Australia and Canada in how the future looks with its first peoples, and its new migrants. The first trip was to speak at Museums Australia/Aotearoa – a joint event held in Auckland. The second trip was spent at Te Papa in their Mahuki museum incubator helping the first cohort interrogate and kick the tyres of their museum startups.

Inbetween Te Papa and Mahuki, I spoke at Web Directions – now just Directions, in Sydney. The day after the US election and alongside many US-based speakers, Directions was considerably more spikey and political than I remember it being. I really enjoyed reconnecting with many of the Australian tech scene – and the splitting of the technical sessions of Web Directions out into their own events has turned the new look Directions into an even better highly curated single track event. I should probably also mention that Directions had the best conference catering of any event this year too! If you watch one talk from it, make it the closer from Maciej Ceglowski – he was in fine form.

The third time back in NZ, several weeks after my time at Mahuki, was for National Digital Forum – one of my favourite events and something I’d really missed when I was in New York. This year I asked that my keynote be done as a Q&A with one of my favourite kiwi museum people. So, Courtney Johnson and I sat on stage around a pixel fireplace (stoked occasionally by Digital NZ’s Andy Neale) and talked about the differences between museum cultures in various parts of the world and building supportive and reflective work cultures for teams. It seemed to go down well and the casual nature of the chat probably meant we covered topics in a more forthright manner than if it had been a ‘prepared’ deck of slides. You can watch our chat over on Youtube.

The final trip of 2016 was to Singapore. It was the first time I’d stepped outside the airport in Singapore. Emerging into the humidity, I found the place full of contradictions. I got a chance to visit both Cloud Forest and the fantastic Art Science Museum. The Cloud Forest is a microclimate inside a biodome – and despite a heavy handed climate change message at the exit, its a spectacular, if dystopian, glimpse into the future. The nearby Art Science‘s permanent exhibition galleries are made up of 16 interactive experiences by Japanese agency TeamLAB. TeamLAB’s work has been exhibited in many places these days and their model of being a hybrid agency/design/art studio is fascinating. Here at ArtScience, though, the impact of all 16 works put together into ‘zones’ brings a scale and gravitas to the best of their work. It’s very impressive – and very accessible – in a way that some fo their scaled down, individual pieces aren’t.

This year was one of my most heavy listening years since 2008 – perhaps unexpectedly as I’d noticed that I’ve had a lot less headphone time during office hours this year. I clocked up 20,426 plays of 10,639 different songs from 3,148 different artists – and I went to 21 live gigs.

There were a lot of great new releases this year – and many discoveries of older things. My interest in deep synthesized soundscapes continued with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani’s collaboration being one the highlights alongside a fabulous compilation of 70s/80s music put out by Light In The Attic – The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe, 1970-1986. Add to that Wolfgang Voigt and Deepchord’s remixes of Peter Michael Hamel’s Colours of Time and I went far down a wormhole I hadn’t visited since the early 90s and the days of running our ambient recovery parties, Cryogenesis, and parties with our friends at Punos. I’ve mentioned in passing that I’d now describe this as ‘music for self care’.

On a similarly ‘home listening’ tip, I did interviews with Ian Hawgood of Home Normal, Dave Howell of 130701 and Dave Wenngrenn of 1631 – all home to different aspects of a very loosely defined ‘modern classical’ sound. 130701 put out Ian William Craig’s Centres – one of my favourite albums of the year full of delicate processed vocals. It was good to get back into a bit of music-writing, and maybe that wil expand over 2017. I’m also starting to draw stronger connections between my recent work and my musical life and this has started to leak out in interviews like this one with Dan Koener of Sandpit.

Being at ACMI has pushed me much deeper into games again. I don’t think I’ve played (or enjoyed playing) video games this much since I was a teenager, or perhaps when i was moonlighting as a reviewer in the 90s. In between the indie games, I caught up on lost time with Witcher 3, thoroughly and unexpectedly enjoyed the single player mission of Titanfall 2, and spent q lot of hours playing Life Is Strange with my daughter. I could talk about improvements in game narratives, or the immersion of a good VR game, but mostly I’m currently interested in the spatial design of the worlds in which these games take place – virtual architectures – and how they affect gameplay, how their edges are increasingly hard to find.

Perhaps I’ll get to write more this year. I had to disappoint a few people by pulling out of writing projets in 2016 which I’m still apologetic for. Life is busy.

[Crossposted with bonus pics on Medium]

Categories
Conceptual

Since we last spoke. Rounding up 2015.

Each year these roundups seems to get later and later! This one is an amalgamation of various ‘unpublished posts’ and related adventures, so carefully pour yourself a flat white, and nestle comfortably. (Don’t forget to open all the links in a new browser tab . . .)

1. Prologue

Three years ago I wrote an end-of-year post that summed up my first year in New York. Back then I was in the early stages of learning how museums in the USA worked, and how they differed from those in ‘centrally funded’ parts of the globe. Not unsurprisingly, funding and audiences are closely tied together – perhaps more closely than I had first thought.

Digital transformation is really about something else that often isn’t openly talked about – transforming audiences. Sure, we might change work practices along the way, but really digital transformation efforts are really in the service of visitors wherever they might be. In that sense, ‘digital transformation’ follows in the footsteps of the education-led museology of the 1990s. You can sense this in Nicholas Serota’s recently published “commonwealth of ideas” speech about a new Tate.

In the US ‘transforming audiences’ is especially tricky as the culture of private funding means that for most privately funded museums the ‘actual audience’ is a handful of board members and ‘significant donors’ (foundations and corporations), not those who actually attend or use the museum and its collections as visitors. The desired outcomes of different board members of the same institution may vary widely, and at times may even be in conflict with each other – pity the poor Director who is squeezed in the middle!

Elsewhere in the world, where museums are publicly funded or rise from grassroots community activation, ‘who funds the museum’ is theoretically closer to ‘who attends the museum’. In the case of central government funding the results may steer towards ‘instrumentalism’ where the institution becomes a delivery mechanism for social policy – Robert Hewison’s Cultural Capital: The Rise & Fall Of Creative Britain is a worthwhile read on instrumentalism as it played out in the 00s.

Either way, though, who is legitimated as belonging to, and who is able to come to the museum is as hotly contested as it ever was – although more ‘coded‘ than ever before. You can see this in all the debates about ‘how people behave’ inside museums, as much as in the socio-economic and racial disparities between different ‘levels’ of museum worker.

2. Departure lounge

Just before I finished at Cooper Hewitt I went to Orlando, Florida, to speak at the Tessitura conference.

Being down in Orlando gave me the opportunity to peek inside Disneyworld thanks to Micah’s unofficial connections. Although museum folks tend to look skeptically, if not disdainfully, at Disney’s theme parks, I think that there’s a lot to learn and understand from theme park design and the ways in which visitors use and create meaning in these places. That said, my theme park experience is somewhat limited. I’ve been to LegoLand in San Diego (2012)- somewhat disappointing for Lego fans – but I had a surprisingly wonderful time at Tokyo Disney (2011). My time at Tokyo Disney was unexpectedly enjoyable because of the way in which the Japanese visitors got deeply involved in the experience with even grandparents cosplayed as characters, and the lack of ‘queue aggression’. Both of those, I expect, are culturally specific responses.

A photo posted by Micah Walter (@micahwalter) on

Disneyworld in Orlando Florida was not the same. Micah and I hadn’t gone to go on the rides – but to get a first-hand sense of how the fabled Magic Band was working. Waiting for our informal guide, we sat outside the ticket area and watched the stream of families – tired, stressed, bickering – moving in and out of the ‘no turnstiles’ (the turnstiles having been replaced by touch sensors for the Magic Band).

Before you think that the Magic Band and the removal of turnstiles might mean fewer helper staff at the entrance, let me reassure that there was still one staffer for each entry path. Our guide advised us that some visitors had Magic Bands that didn’t quite work as expected and they were there to scan their tickets and help them align their bands with the ‘Mickey-shaped’ readers properly. Sound familiar?

Instead the Magic Band allows Disney to – the idea goes – get better analytics on the use of its parks. It doesn’t yet operate as a revenue generator in its own right, but in theory it reduces queueing and makes ‘guests’ happier (at least as far as their ‘park experience’ goes, probably not their lives as a whole). ‘Better analytics’ is the promise but as we discovered, there’s a fair few hardware issues still being worked on as those longer range RFIDs aren’t 100% accurate, and as always there are bugs. There’s also still a lot of guests who don’t have Magic Bands – those on day passes especially.

What was fascinating to hear, though, was that behind the scenes, Disney has joined up a lot of their backend systems. Those user accounts are now beginning to be ‘integrated’ – and I think that this is probably the bigger and more important achievement here. Effectively if you have an online account for any Disney service (which includes ESPN and ABC GO – and maybe also Club Penguin etc too), then those are increasingly going to be viewable by Disney as a single entity. For the customer this means ‘Single Sign On’, and for Disney it means vast seas of data. (Cue privacy and security challenges)

It was also good to hear about the surprises. Now that visitors can pre-plan their days at Disneyworld right down to the timing and order of the rides they want to go on they have begun to behave in unexpected ways. For a set of parks that had been designed on queueing systems and enticements to spend in particular ways, the Magic Band has suddenly upended some of the assumption that have been quite literally ‘built in to’ the parks and their business models for decades. Some visitors now optimise their visit to reduce the time spent between rides – that very time that the original park designs relied on for visitors to spend money shopping and dining.

Not unlike museums, though, the challenge will be sticking with the systems and their ongoing maintenance and upgrades until this data and the analytics starts to really bear fruit.

What a learning experience that was.

3. Now boarding

So at the beginning of September I farewelled New York, and with it, the USA.

The Cooper Hewitt work was as ‘done’ as much as it could be – and in the aftermath of the ‘big opening’, the museum proved that it was possible to retain momentum and keep pressing on towards the launch of the Pen in March. Not only that, but the staff also doubled down on a cycle of iterations (that happily continues even today).

I’ve long argued that museums need to get better at doing ‘exhibitions as continuous productions’ [the work on The 80s Are Back at Powerhouse is a useful historical example] – not ‘launch and move on to the next thing’ – but it is hard to make that a reality.

Cooper Hewitt definitely had a pretty good go at attempting that shift. And the awards kept coming – more importantly, though, so did families.

4. Safety briefing

Leaving any city is hard and the ‘leaving New York‘ story is already so overused in popular culture [spoiler – it’s usually a ‘rags to riches’ or the ‘voyage and return’ plot] that I won’t bore you with the full details.

Instead in the tradition of data dumping, here’s some pointless data collected from my time in NYC –

Months living in Manhattan – 46
Rent – far too much
Music listened to – 66,099 songs
Concerts and club nights attended – 61
Number of museums visited [excepting Cooper Hewitt]- 206
Out of city flights – 36 domestic USA, 26 international

And to prove that New York is indeed a walking-city, here’s a map of my Manhattan travels on foot for the last 12 months. You can probably figure out that I lived close to the office “in the 90s”.

Walking in NYC 2015

It definitely wasn’t all ‘work’ – there was plenty of ‘play’ too. New York was a great base from which to explore the North Hemisphere, and endlessly full of interesting music and cultural things to do.

There’s many friends that I miss – from lovely work colleagues, ‘museum friends’, my late night music co-conspirators, right down to the local donut ateliers and our building superintendent.

However, deep winter is something I’m glad to be rid of.

5. In-flight entertainment

2015 was a good year for music – whose relevance to my museum work is explored a bit in an interview that Thomas Padilla did with me for DH+Lib.

It was notable for some particularly wonderful live shows. FKA Twigs absolutely killed it in Brooklyn during Red Bull Music Academy, and the same goes for Kamasi Washington at Blue Note which happened to be my last night out in NYC. Sao Paolo/Chicago cornettist Rob Mazurek, too, was in fine form at Shapeshifter and I was so happy to have caught ska legend Derrick Morgan at the final Dig Deeper at Littlefield. Bunker provided some great long nights too with Moritz von Oswald and Atom TM and my lucky kids got a chance to see Bjork and Arca at Carnegie Hall and dance to Caribou in the East River Park. Being back in Australia now, though, it has been a lot of fun to wind up the sound system again and get out and back playing some shows of my own.

Release-wise, there were plenty of great records that are worth checking out from Jerusalem in my Heart & Esmerine, both on Montreal’s Constellation label; a new album of introspective NZ pop from SJD; the reissue of Turkish producer Baris K’s splendid live recording of Kime Ne by his band Insanlar reworking a 17th century Sufi poem; my go-to “lucid dreaming in long haul cattle class” music, Max Richter’s 8 hour Sleep epic; Holly Herndon’s Platform; Joanna Newsom’s Divers; Roger Robinson & Disrupt’s Dis Side Ah Town; and great EPs from Luke Abbott & Jack Wyllie, Tropic of Cancer, Nidia Minaj; Pilooski; and a bunch of faceless techno bollocks and the entire Super Rhythm Trax label.

6. Slow descent & holding pattern

So we left New York at the start of September and as our container load of belongings departed on the Ever Legend (to Kaoshing) then the Ital Mattina (from Kaoshing to Melbourne) we spent a month travelling.

I spent a fascinating week in Buenos Aires listening to South and Central American museums discuss their collective futures – it was probably exactly what I needed after New York, a ‘cultural palette cleanser’. The contrast between challenges of New York museums and those talking in Argentina couldn’t have been sharper. The manifesto produced at the event is a must read.

Then it was off to Paris to visit some of the smaller, stranger museums including the fantastic Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature, complete wth super cute instructional videos and type-written ‘accession cards’.

Great 'no flash photography' animated signage

A video posted by Seb Chan (@sebsnarl) on

Publicly browsable collection and provenance records.

A photo posted by Seb Chan (@sebsnarl) on

Also great was the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée, which has been kept pretty much as it was when it was built for the 1900 World Fair. No technology, just endless skeletons – and considerable more interesting for the kids than the newly refurbished Grande galerie de l’evolution which is more sparse, screen-oriented, and with ‘tasteful taxidermy’.

Now that's how you display a natural history collection!

A photo posted by Seb Chan (@sebsnarl) on

Following Paris it was over to Glasgow, then London, Brighton for Culture 24’s Lets Get Real 2015 conference, then on to Bristol for the Watershed’s No Boundaries complete with a side trip to Banksy’s Dismaland.

Despite visiting the UK several times a year whilst I was in New York, this last trip – with its extended drive down from Scotland – felt different, darker. Austerity bites hard, and the cultural sector is in tough times. There will be more closures, and hopefully a new wave of artists and cultural workers. Certainly at Lets Get Real and No Boundaries, there was a wealth of provocative ideas – and a sense that the time for politely accepting austerity had long since passed. Cultural organisations, museums, libraries have all begun to speak up. The talks from No Boundaries are all up online and are worth digging in to.

We got to Bristol on the last day of Dismaland, Banksy’s dystopian theme park. I’d been watching how art critics and art press had dutifully lined up against it – “its bad art”, “its so obvious”, “its so, ugh, ‘general public'” – yet here it was overflowing with people. Numbers crunched, it turned out to be one of the most well attended art events of the last decade despite only running for six weeks, and being far from London. But numbers aside, what was striking about Dismaland was how unpretentious it was – theatrical, definitely, but exclusionary, no. The scale was immense – far beyond that which museums and galleries can ever hope to accommodate – and amongst the individual works that didn’t work, there were plenty that did like Jimmy Cauty’s massive model city sculpture ‘Aftermath Displacement Principle’. As far as providing an alternative to the ‘art market’ and its ‘art (un)fairs’, Dismaland was engaging and perversely gave us all a sense of hope at the end of a long ‘austerity UK’ tour.

Dismaland – The Official Unofficial Film from Jaybee on Vimeo.

7. Landing

The new thing at ACMI is well underway. Melbourne, it turns out, is a lovely city – and lives up to much of its ‘most liveable city’ hype.

My first months at ACMI began with a flurry of activity – several sprints with Tellart (interaction design), Morris Hargraves Macintyre (audience research), and Meld Studios (service design) – and has now settled into more of a rhythm. You’ll start seeing a lot more leaking out over the next few months as changes become more tangible, so follow along over at ACMI Labs if you’re curious. Much like Cooper Hewitt Labs, ACMI Labs is ‘just’ a semantic construct, not a physical reality – a space for all staff to be self-reflective in their practice by blogging quickly about what they’ve just done.

Not unexpectedly at ACMI, intellectual property is a big issue now that I’m back in Australia. It isn’t just that I’m now working with films, TV and games – but that Australia has no ‘fair use’ in its Copyright system, and that much hope of change on that front is lost as the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report is effectively on ice.

8. Jetlag

Somewhat bizarrely I had two trips to Europe on my schedule shortly after I started at ACMI. These had been on the calendar for many months, from well before I’d even thought of moving out of the northern hemisphere . . . and so in mid October I was in Salzburg to lead some workshops for Salzburg Global Seminar’s latest cohort of Young Cultural Innovators. It was my third time in Salzburg and like the previous times, spending time with the attendees was fascinating and energising. On the way back through Vienna I called in to Ars Electronica (Linz) and MAK (Vienna) to see what they were up to. I was particularly entertained by Ars Electronica’s new 8K cinema and MAK’s handwritten object labels – each at very different ends of the technology spectrum.

A photo posted by Seb Chan (@sebsnarl) on

The second trip back to Europe took place in November and I spoke at an event at the newly expanded Museumplein in Kerkrade in the south of the Netherlands. The Museumplein now features three institutions – the long running science centre Continium, along withe newly built Cube design museum and Columbus ‘Earth Theatre’. The Cube is attempting to be a new type of design museum focussed entirely on the design process with labs throughout where students from the nearby universities are researching, prototyping and making. The Columbus Earth Theatre is a bit like an upside-down planetarium, built to look down into the earth. The surrounding towns have a long history of coal mining and the theatre allows visitors to look down into the earth below them. Its other use is to look at the whole of the earth from space, simulating the ‘overview effect‘ that astronauts are thought to experience when they look back from space. The overview effect’s main proponent, Frank White, was at Museumplein speaking at the same event and it was interesting to hear him describe the potential impact that VR and immersive experiences like the Earth Theatre might have on people.

Heading back to Amsterdam to fly back to Melbourne, I took a short day trip to Maastricht to visit the Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture where Dutch artist Levi van Veluw had taken over the historic house with a vast immersive artwork. Director Valentijn Byvanck has been exploring ideas around multi sensory museum experiences for quite a while and his commission – also crowdfunded – pushed van Veluw, known mostly for his works on paper, to make a work that emphasised other senses.

Van Veluw’s The Relativity of Matter was one of the best things I’ve seen/experienced in the last few years. As a booked solo or duo experience only, visitors are led through the front door of Marres and then left to explore on their own – devices, bags, everything is taken away. The 350sqm installation is dark and disorienting, some rooms feel damp and musty, others are scented, and I felt hyperaware of everything once inside. Many of the rooms are based on Van Veluw’s charcoal drawings – which will give you a sense of what it looked like along some photos from this Dutch review. As a site-specific work built especially for the rooms of Marres it is unlikely it will pop up anywhere else.

8. Epilogue

Melbourne, it turns out, is pretty far away from the rest of the world.

Crossposted with fewer images over on Medium.

Categories
Conceptual Digital storytelling Interactive Media User experience

Experiencing an immersive solo documentary – Door Into The Dark

There are some very interesting experiments going on in the documentary format right now and last week I got the chance to explore some of the latest at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Door Into The Dark pitches itself as a ‘sensory documentary experience for one’ and is a wonderful mix of immersive theatre, spatial exploration, and storytelling. It was made by UK duo Anagram and first presented by Bristol’s Watershed. Wearing a sensory deprivation helmet and headphones you walk, blind, through a door into a landscape where you grasp for a rope and follow it, zigzag-ing through what feels like an enormous cavern . . . until the rope runs out . . . As you timidly grope in the dark, stories of different people who have lost their sight, their way, or their understanding of themselves are revealed using a mix of narration and first-person stories. Deprived of sight, you concentrate more on your other senses and this has the effect of building empathy with those whose stories you are hearing – although, crucially, at no point do you feel like you are ‘in their shoes’. That distinction is important.

Door Into The Dark uses iBeacons to trigger story elements and audio instructions as you wander, (although mine malfunctioned 3/4 of the way through sending me into a loop), it reminded me a lot of Halsey Bergund’s work like Scapes and experimental audio-only mobile games like Papa Sangre, as much as it did of immersive theatre. The clever use of physical props – the ropes, and later, a rather terrifying rock climb – combined with sensory isolation made this something really quite special.

I was fitted with a bio-tracker for My 40 minute journey into the dark as part of Anagram’s evaluation, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results. As I mentioned in my write up of If Book Then, the interest in the ‘monitoring of affect’ by authors is going to result in some very interesting new forms of ‘responsive storytelling’ in the next few years.

If you’re interested in privacy and the web (you should be!) then there is also the seven part Do Not Track from a consortia of Canadian and European partners. Packaged as a web series it has light interactivity that applies the main ideas of each episode to your own browsing habits, demonstrating that you, as a viewer, are not watching some abstract concept, but that you are already directly in-/af-fected.

**Update**

The Harmony Institute has just sent me a visualisation of my heart rate throughout the Door in the Dark experience. And here it is!

[click to enlarge]
[click to enlarge]
Categories
Conceptual

Thank you. Now, let’s begin.

The final chunk of the new Cooper Hewitt finally birthed today.

The first visitor from the general public got to use The Pen as a part of their visit shortly after 10am. And, perhaps representative of the audience shift the museum has made, it was a parent with a small child.

A photo posted by Cooper Hewitt (@cooperhewitt) on

It has been a huge effort and everyone involved has done incredible work – my immediate crew, the rest of Cooper Hewitt, Local Projects, Sistelnetworks, GE Design, Undercurrent, MakeSimply, Ideum and Tellart. Beyond the talented public faces of these partners – and definitely beyond me – it is the highly technical people writing code late into the night; the graphic, industrial, media and interaction designers toiling away to make just ‘one more improvement’; the engineers testing and fixing things that ‘weren’t supposed to go wrong’; the IT folks keeping the lights on and the network pipes flowing; and the assemblers on the assembly line, who really deserve the praise for what has been achieved here.

Critical, too, has been the ‘venture philanthropy’ provided by Bloomberg through their Bloomberg Connects program. We pitched a ‘holistic’ and ‘bleeding edge’ concept for a program that had previously only funded audio and multimedia guides/apps and they didn’t blink.

By now, I’m sure regular readers have already seen the longform piece in The Atlantic on my team. Of all the press that the new Cooper Hewitt has gotten, and probably will get for a little while longer, it is this one that I think properly grasped what and why we did what we did. Even after my team disbands, changes, transforms – as inevitably it will, everyone involved should be very proud of what they’ve done.

Its remarkable really.

What Aaron said at the end of that Atlantic piece is important – “[We’re] the Smithsonian. We should be that good”.

But we know it is far from perfect. And so, in the great tradition of a digital product launches – now the real work starts.

Categories
Conceptual

Too busy to blog: a short round up of 2014

Like many of my friends who work in museums, media or related disciplines, I’ve been feeling the pressure of being ‘too busy to blog’. Not just to blog, but to write anything really. But in the spirit of Dan Hon (who has trained himself to be able to write eloquent things at the hardest of times), it is worth writing something about what’s been going on. Its the end of the year, too, and there’s an entire year to be written about.

As many readers will know, my year has been about getting to the opening of Cooper Hewitt – or ‘rebooting it’ as I prefer to say. The press is all over the museum right now and they’re saying ‘nice things’ about the ambitions the museum staff and the board collectively had for it. More importantly, though, seeing the visitors streaming through the door, many for their first ever visit, younger and more diverse too, has been incredibly gratifying.

Alexandra Lange in the New Yorker captured it well, writing, “At a time when so many museums seem intent on new spaces for new design and new art (like the Whitney, Upper East Side deserter), it’s a relief that the Cooper Hewitt finally spent the time and the money to make their 1902 Carnegie Mansion sing. Rather than being a straightjacket, the mansion’s ornate rooms and halls now form a rich and idiosyncratic frame for design objects of all ages.”

And Julia Friedman’s closing comment in her piece for Hyperallergic was echoed by many reviewers, “The reimagining of the Cooper Hewitt demonstrates an openness to engage not just with the history of design but with its future as well — an ambitious and laudable undertaking.” If you want photos, there’s a room-by-room photo essay at NY Curbed.

I’m really proud of all the things that my team has been able to achieve at the museum. My team’s work in collaboration with staff and Local Projects, Ideum, Tellart, Sistelnetworks, GE, Tessitura, Undercurrent and others has been pretty much universally good. Collaboration at this scale and pace is usually not like this at all.

It is definitely a very different museum now.

Some things we got (mostly) right this year

– Making the museum ‘digital all over’ rather than creating separate ‘interactive areas’ where visitors, content and experience gets inevitably silo-ed

– Moving away from investing in single-person museum mobile apps in the galleries to focussing on social multi-user huge screens (experiences unable to be replicated online or offsite) whilst welcoming photography and device usage

– Combining the museum reopening narrative with an open access/open source narrative from the open source corporate font with the brand launch to the 3d mansion scan data release and as much of the backend code as possible. Or, in other words, making the most of the opportunity to change ‘default’ practices.

– Putting an API at the heart of everything and ensuring that everything Local Projects and Tellart built interfaced directly with it, even with the developer overhead that brought for all involved

– Putting the collection (and objects) at the heart of in-gallery experiences and using digital media to allow visitors to explore, transform and build upon it in new ways

– Maintaining “velocity and rhythm” with the team and those we worked with most closely, minimising (but not entirely eliminating) ‘crunch’ time

– Continuing to work from a principle of the “smallest dumbest thing” (and then iterate) even when it might have been easier to want to jump in and over-design [Aaron Cope is a master of ‘task deconstruction’ in this regard]

– Our team’s insistence on generous interfaces (coined by Mitchell Whitelaw) privileging browsing over search, which were then nicely realised in-gallery by the designers at Local Projects

– Investing in the right hardware to give the galleries necessary longevity [because at 84″s a 4K resolution is pretty much all that will cut it given that we all have such high resolutions in our pockets] and the content on S3.

– Spending the time and relationship management required to fix the underlying licensing, rights, permissions around objects and media (including loans) to ensure that everything in-gallery is available online for as long as visitors now expect it to be

– Focussing on short-form video production [with subtitling] in the galleries, and the same with audio available on the web

– Building advance online ticketing for general admission in-house that actually works because its very easy [a ‘no-cart’ system] and also saves visitors money

– Making the decision to downgrade the main website from Drupal to WordPress on the basis of better serving the needs of content creators [possibly at the expense of system adminstrators]

It was a relatively quiet year for talks, especially the second half of the year, but 2015 promises more traveling and talking. No doubt some of those talks will look back on the last 18 months revealing more of the back stories and strategic rationales, and some will be more focussed on the ‘next thing’ . . .

It is now my fourth winter in New York, and I have just turned over three years in the city. Its about this time of year that my family misses having fish & chips after work on Bronte Beach, and our distant friends. Fortunately the coffee in the new cafe at work is now up to the expected standard. Small pleasures.

So if you’re visiting NYC do pop by.

Categories
API Conceptual

Things that didn’t get made #754 – the ‘eBay/museum API valuation’ web service

One of the things that is most commonly asked of a museum’s collection is “so, how much is it worth?”.

In an art museum context this question is usually asked with an air of incredulity – as in “That much? Really? For that?”. In a history museum it is often asked because the inquisitive person has something similar sitting gathering dust in their attic or shed.

In both situations the museum is mute. And with good reason – even if it sometimes results in uncomfortable exchanges.

So one of the digital products that sat unmade but staring everyone in the face at the Powerhouse was an eBay/museum API mashup. The idea was that ‘recent prices’ would be shown just like, say, Discogs does for its own marketplace.

discogs-price-index
(example Discogs sale history)

It made a lot of sense for much of the social history collection. We even talked internally about how many public enquiries such a service would reduce for the museum.

But these things can’t be made inside an institution.

Now harvesting the auction house sales prices from Blouin’s Art Sales Index and making a browser plugin that revealed recent sale prices as you hovered over artist names on art museum websites, would be a thing. In fact I’m sure it is already on Blouin’s roadmap.

But more useful and less provocative would be to build that more prosaic, less political, and more useful, social history collection eBay lookup service. Think of what it could do for thrift store hunts.

This came to mind again as I was reading one of Dan Hon’s recent daily letters (a veritable treasure trove). Dan mentioned, in passing, Amazon’s Flow app (iOS and Android)- “the idea of being able to point a camera at anything and being able to find out its current worth via a simple lookup on Amazon Marketplace or eBay”. Right now, Flow is aimed at buying new consumer goods and isn’t about secondhand items, but it won’t be long.

It would make for a nice two day project for a student . . . just not one working inside a museum. DPLA or Europeana APIs, anyone?

Categories
Conceptual

A commencement speech to exhibit designers

Capstone_2014_POSTCARD_6x4_OUTLINES_01

Tonight I did one of those things that felt really ‘American’ – I gave one of those commencement-type speeches for a group of graduates of the SUNY/Fashion Institute of Technology Exhibition Design Masters program. The student work was on show at the venue and I was heartened by its quality and diversity and I was excited to be amongst it all.

Here’s my rough notes for what was a 15 minute speech. This is the 12″ extended mix but I’ve kept most of the ‘talkiness’ in. The slides aren’t included but hyperlinks are, because, links are better.

“Hi, my name is Seb. I’ve been working in and with museums for quite a while now and I’m here to try to convince you that, as exhibit designers, that there couldn’t be a better or more exciting time to be graduating.

When I first started working with museums and technology we were still talking about interactive kiosks, and making virtual museums. Back then I had a Nokia cellphone.

This is an exciting time. Especially an exciting time to work in museums.

We have finally all the components in place to reposition museums as truly global ‘seed banks of culture and ideas’.

Even if this is also an uncertain time and there are many troubling things afoot.

Designer Anab Jain wrote (and spoke) last year about a concept she called The New Normal. This, she wrote, was a catch-all for “[this] period of protracted super density. Dystopia and chaos all at once”. I’m a huge fan of Anab’s work and her New Normal is a useful way to describe the conflagration of economic collapse, environmental collapse, and social stress that in engulfing much of the world right now.

It isn’t going away. The New Normal is here to stay. It is times like these that we need museums more than ever to help us make sense of the present.

Museums are changing. They desperately want to change, they really do. And I believe them. And as new graduates it is your job to help them, and to make sure they don’t embarrass themselves by telling too many dad jokes. Because they do that too. Museums are better off not trying to be cool.

Museums now explicitly compete with other venues, experiences, events and media. It is the new exhibition designers job to make sure that when you get someone’s attention that you deliver something compelling and respectful of that visitor’s choice to spend time in or with your creations.

Because the plumbing that we’ve all been waiting for is nearly complete. Museums are finally getting networked and their networks are becoming good enough for exhibit designers to make better use of them.

I note with interest that the big sports stadiums are now kitting themselves out with enough wifi network capacity to deliver individual HD streaming replays to every seat in their house.

And, despite the NSA and now the FCC [watch Vi Hart’s great primer], the network globally is growing stronger. As a public ,we barely think about the physical and legislative infrastructure that keeps it running. That is until its fragility becomes apparent. Like when the main undersea internet cable from Egypt is cut during an uprising.

This same fragile network is what is finally allowing museums to build more porous boundaries between ‘the gallery’ and ‘the rest of the world’. It is your responsibility to experiment and push on these boundaries even more.

You’ll also undoubtably be designing physical spaces to cater for robot visitors too – who will wander amongst the other visitors, streaming vision to other parts of the country or globe. This isn’t distant speculation – it is happening now.

Here’s a great example of distance learning in museums through robotic telepresence in Australia. Much like the currently staid and static Google Streetview walkthroughs on Google Art Project, you’ll become aware of the affordances and challenges of designing exhibitions that look and feel immersive and legible both in the flesh, and through spherical lenses.

I hope when you look outside the walls of the exhibition you consider how new stories can be told at a city scale like the playful Hello Lamp Post project.

And don’t expect that 3D scanning is anything other than the New Normal too. Because where the really pressing and urgent challenges lie are with born-digital objects which, when introduced into museums, act like trojan horses for revolution and change.

As we collect software, code, and physical objects whose existence and operation relies, too, on software, code, and complex networked systems, how will you design exhibitions to reflect the increasingly ‘immaterial present’? Let alone, the coming bio-engineered future?

You, as exhibition designers are charged with deigning the new infrastructure for the museums of the future. Everything you will design is no longer capable of being standalone. Your work needs to plug in to, and build upon the work of others.

If we collectively get this right then we will be;

– enabling new forms of public engagement
– enabling new forms of exhibition
– enabling institutions to collect the present
– enabling new forms of scholarship
– enabling a new type of institution

And not a moment too soon.

Because museum visitors are changing. Back in 2010 when the American Association of Museums commissioned their Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums report (PDF) it warned of the significant under-representation of so-called ‘minority audiences’. Core museum visitors, in 2010, were made up of only 9% minority audiences whilst the minority population of the US sat at 34%. Projected to 2035, minority populations were expected to reach 46% and core museum audiences need to reflect this demographic transformation. This is our New Normal.

Museums are responding with a turn towards participation, experience, spectacle and events.

As exhibit designers you’ll also be actively contributing to the surveillance that is also now part of the New Normal. Surveillance, malevolent and the more benign, is part of the Faustian bargain we have made with networked technologies, and at the very least visitor tracking data is seen as having the opportunity to design better, more usable galleries and effective exhibits.

In such a world, we need new values for exhibit designers that foster openness and transparency. Visitors need to be aware of this surveillance and have agency in how their data is kept and used.

Similarly we need to find ways for exhibit designs, themselves, to be as transparent and revelatory as when the web first came along 21 years ago and that moment when you discovered ‘view source’. Unexpectedly, even as we’re seeing ‘view source’ increasingly obscured in our browsers, we’re already seeing moves towards a ‘view source’ in other parts of the design community with the Open Design movement in Europe and elsewhere.

Perhaps these are utopian dreams. And as we know ‘utopia’ is, by its nature, always out of reach.

As I’ve said elsewhere, we’re ‘building a house in the middle of a fast flowing river’. You are now part of a global community trying to tackle similar problems in a variety of different institutions. Some in the museum sector are trying to hold on to the old world, but you, as new graduates are lucky in that you can escape that past.

This is an exciting time. Especially an exciting time to work in museums.

Go forth and help us figure out how to make museums even more relevant and impactful in the world.”

Big thanks to Brenda Cowan, chair of the Exhibition Design program, for inviting me. It was a lot of fun.

Categories
Conceptual

Announcing ‘The Contemplator’

(Another post that has sat as an unfinished thought for months – so rather than finish it, here it is)

As some readers know, I’m buried in an avalanche of work trying to make a formerly historic house/decorative arts museum into something that feels and operates like part of the 21st century. Inevitably this means turning a museum often described as a ‘sleepy hidden treasure’ into something that is visibly more interactive, welcoming, and playful.

However a small group of influential people want museums to be their sanctuary from the outside world, its noise, its people, and its relentlessness.

I can understand this.

Living and working in New York, even the idea of silence is seductive. This isn’t a new desire – but it has gotten more air than usual with concerns about technology, interactivity and participation in museums getting uncomfortably caught up with discussions about ‘new audiences’.

In the tradition of design ideation – let’s reverse the problem.

So for the small group of the museum public who want museums to be their quiet sanctuary, we provide The Contemplator – in the vein of Hugo Gernsback’s ‘Isolator’. A helmet that fits comfortably and provides a focussed field of vision limiting the visual interference of ‘other visitors’. Instead of the audio of an audio guide, a calming white noise generator is provided with noise cancelling headphones to return the sensation of silence to the museum visit.

Huge Gernsback's The Isolator (via The Great Dismal)
Huge Gernsback’s The Isolator (via The Great Dismal)

What would it feel like for those who wish museums to be quiet and empty to be the ones who are forced to adapt?

The best dystopian science fiction often presents the future as dirty, noisy, and crowded. Perhaps the ‘contemplative museum visit’ is not yet the equivalent of the ‘disruptive’ upper crust car rental Ian Bogost rails against – “it’s not car rental that sucks, but dealing with the everyman, being in his presence, even knowing he exists” – so let’s try to keep our increasingly diverse audiences happily co-existing.

Maybe this is already being prototyped in a museum lab near you? Now that’d be fun.

Categories
Conceptual

The end of year wrap 2013

Sometimes the bad guys come out on top
Sometimes the good guys lose
We try not to lose our hearts, not to lose our minds
Sometimes the bad days maintain their grip
Sometimes the good days fade
Hurts the brain to think, hurts the hand to drink
(Ohm, Yo La Tengo)

Yeah its been an “interesting” year – in the manner of that Chinese curse (that apparently wasn’t actually Chinese at all). There’s been a lot going on and the “unnecessarily busy” times of New York City do grind you down. As does the general intensity of injustice and disparity. It doesn’t seem to be that much better back home either. Maybe its just seasonal affect disorder.

However.

After a good run of domestic US talks, there were some very enjoyable overseas ones. The year really kicked off with my opening keynote for MuseumNext in Amsterdam. Although there was much that I could only hint at rather than reveal, that talk and slide deck set up a lot of what followed. Jim Richardson’s conference was remarkable and it was great to be part of it, along with catching up with everyone in Amsterdam who continue to be pushing things forward in a humane manner. Then there was the week in Rio delivering one of the keynotes for the MPR Committee of ICOM, spending time with the inimitable Luis Mendes and getting a whirlwind tour of the Rio art scene along with many discussions of the differing impacts of social technologies in Brazil. The graffiti there was great too and its prominence in the city landscape reminded me of my first time in Montreal long ago for Mutek 2003.

Then there was the week in Melbourne doing a keynote for the Circus Oz Living Archive ARC project at RMIT – one of the really exciting digital archive projects in the Southern Hemisphere that has digitised thirty years of Circus Oz performances. A later, separate trip resulted in a week in Sydney helping the Australian National Maritime Museum figure out where they need to be digitally and how to get there, and a few days in Portugal delivering a keynote for the International Council of Maritime Museums and a ‘Directors workshop’.

Slightly further out of usual orbits, I got pulled into some energising roundtable discussions of human-computer-interaction in Alberquerque and the Preserving.EXE digital preservation discussions at the Library of Congress, along with strategy sessions with ArtStor, and an ongoing role on an expert panel with Council of Canadian Humanities.

I went back to Salzburg for another round of the Salzburg Global Seminar, this time helping establish the framework for a very exciting 10-year program called Young Cultural Innovators that promises to hothouse and nurture a select group of cultural sector professionals each year from ten regional hubs across the globe and all continents.

My team won some awards, and, more importantly, made some pretty groundbreaking stuff out of very little. There’s a lot more of that to come as our collaborations with Local Projects will start to reveal themselves in 2014. We got some great press. As I said in a staff profile in September, one of the best things right now is the immediate small circle of people I work with – they are awesome.

The acquisition of Planetary by Aaron Cope and I for the collection was even more of an adventure to watch as its impact rippled out across the web. If anything I was struck by the sheer impact of traditional press coverage – and the great gulf between existing audiences (the few who know) and potential audiences (the many that can be interested) that it reveals. Never did I expect I would I rue using the metaphor of panda breeding programmes . . . or that the tech press could be so interested in museums.

Aaron and I were invited to lead a group of graduate students deep into the wilds and leave them their with only a few supplies and a rudimentary map to survive with. The students did a great job and the future of the field looks a little brighter as a result – even if some fellow old timers like Nate, Koven and Dana went their separate ways in to consulting.

Time on planes has meant more time to finish books. But I’ve continued to resist a Kindle and my book pile grows ever higher – although, having passed many books on to friends in the great move over to NYC, I’ve continued the practice of passing on. This has become especially important as the number of children’s books grows ever greater as we pass deeper into the voracious phase of mythical creatures, mechanical contraptions, space flight and various craft/science projects. These are seemingly supplemented rather than replaced by YouTube instructionals (would the Rainbow Loom craze exist without YouTube?) and Apps. Books, it appears, are far better for communal familial interactions.

“Let’s simulate late century (sensory) amplification

Musically it was a fantastic year. I saw some great live shows – the best being Nils Frahm, Clint Mansell doing his film soundtracks in a church, Pantha du Prince and the Bell Laboratory – helped in no small part by the Red Bull Music Academy setting up its home in NYC for all of May. And, of course, Massive Attack did their thing with Adam Curtis at the Armory. While I miss doing my own gigs and my music friends from Sydney, I’ve finally started to adjust to the rhythm of shows in New York and I’ve made peace with an sense of FOMO.

I bought some amazing records. This year, too, Bandcamp provided me with much fantastic music that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise, and DripFM continued to be a way to supply some favourite labels with a regular payment. The radical democratising of access certainly makes for a much more diverse musical landscape once you lift the lid and go deep into a genre or sound. Despite this, I keep thinking about the now-5-year-old Spotify and, irrespective of their payments to labels and artists, the more sombre statistic they released was that 20% of their catalogue had never been played. Music discovery, along with general discovery on the web, continues to be a major challenge.

That said, looking back over my Last.FM plays for the year, I dipped back a lot into past memories with my multiple Australian trips each providing the opportunity to bulk digitise more old releases. Fortunately it didn’t feel as nostalgic as it might have because the zeitgeist seems to have finally caught up with the early 90s anyway. Belgian hardcore slowed by a third; early UK breakbeat reimagined by producers too young to remember it as well as those who lived through it; lots of 20th anniversary reissues and remasters of memorable moments of 1993 – it was all happening. It is often said that your music taste hardens and solidifies in your late teens and early 20s, and although I’ve tried to resist that by being involved in the ‘now’, listening back to a lot of techno records from 1992/1993 has revealed a lot of nuance that I definitely only subliminally heard/noticed at the time.

[Update! This Is My Jam has, once again, generated their annual Jam Odyssey so here’s a nice machine-generated mix of my 50 jam selections using the EchoNest algorithms. Go take a listen!]

You might be wondering what music has to do with my work in museums? I talk about it briefly in my interview with Anna Mikhaylova for her Ideas 4 Museums project but like several other museum technologists, music and the social practices that form around sounds and spaces has been a core means for me to understand the opportunities of a museum or other cultural heritage institution to connect people with the unfamiliar. But that is definitely for another post.

I guess that’s the result of finally joining Old Club.

But nothing ever stays the same
Nothing’s explained
The higher we go, the longer we fly
Cause this is it for all we know
So say good night to me
And lose no more time, no time
Resisting the flow

(Ohm, Yo La Tengo)

Categories
Conceptual

Tackling Ross Parry’s ‘post-digital normativity’ on a daily basis with visitors

(More old-ish drafts being pushed out the door)

We talk a lot in the office about the sort of digital experience we want in our new galleries. But without revealing what we are actually doing, here’s some of the conundrums that we’ve been processing over the last year – that are widely applicable across institutions.

In many ways, what we have been really talking about is Ross Parry’s notion of a ‘post digital normativity‘ (see also his paywalled journal article with a look at organisation structures and digital teams in UK national museums as PDF) – a new normal that doesn’t separate a digital experience into something different from the overall museum experience. Other people mistakenly describe this as ‘the elegant invisibility of technology’ whereas in fact it is about coming to a collective agreement that everyday life is inseparable from a technologically-mediated existence.

We’ve all observed visitors taking the #museumselfie, and a smaller cohort of visitors taking photos of object labels, and we’ve all seen families struggle with the anti-social nature of audioguides. We’ve tried to service the informational desires of visitors by deploying QR codes (ugh), NFC/RFID (see London’s Natural History Museum and their NaturePlus cards way back in 2009), and even short URLs to galleries only to find that they are rarely used, or if they are, audience research reveals that the resultant ‘extra information’ lacked the depth and specificities wanted by the curious visitor. (Perhaps an object phone direct to the relevant subject expert curator’s desk would be more effective!)

As museum staffers, too, we’ve also been frustrated at the difficulty of ‘getting visitors back’ as repeat visitors. Dallas Museum of Art’s DMA Friends is obviously one to watch on this. “Technology” was supposed to make that easier – as if its magic touch could transform a ‘nice family day out’ into something called ‘edutainment’ and transform single visit desires into ‘lifelong learning relationships’.

Of course every museum worth their salt is thinking about how to sort out the value of digital experiences in their galleries – be it through large scale interventions or mobile apps – and providing at least the opportunity for visitors to recall their visit later. The latter was probably best demonstrated in 2011 by Tasmania’s MONA, and can also be seen in MOMA’s 2013 media-rich ‘audio guide replacement‘. The former ‘s torch is being currently borne by the Cleveland Museum of Art’s impressive Gallery One. Across the field this threatens to become a race to out-screen and out-size the next institution with little consideration – especially by funders – of the ongoing costs and underlying content challenges.

Even the best don’t get near 100% take up rates – not even MONA which gets closest – where without the supplied device you are set a drift without any labels to guide or inform you of what you are looking at and also beneath the ground without mobile reception to distract you.

Thinking about this from the visitor’s own perspective is revealing because they have little conception of, or tolerance for, the museum’s own inability to meet their expectations. “Why do I need something to make my visit better?” “You’ve run out of devices – that’s bad planning”. The device doesn’t work the way they intuit that it should – “that’s bad design”. The content is little more than an extended label text – “I may as well have just used your website on my phone”.

And you still want to deploy that great technological intervention?

All of these interventions require services and systems to be built that touch on almost every aspect of the museum as well as cross-departmentally. And this is why it has been so difficult for institutions to firstly get it done, and, for those that do, to then get it right.

The front-of-house team has to be engaged enough with the motive and purpose of technologies deployed in the galleries to want to troubleshoot and provide the conduit for feature requests and bug reports between the visitors and the museum. The content production workflows need to be cogniscent of the time constraints for curators and educators so as to not overload them with yet another content production task on top of object labels, exhibition research and educational programming. The reality is inevitably that you will need more staff, not fewer – and not just in technical areas but across the institution as a whole. There will be some ability to restructure and redeploy existing staff to new roles – Lynda Kelly’s oft-heard mantra of “20% smarter not 20% harder” – but the reality may be that you also need 20% more staff!

Some questions worth answering –

– Does the technology make the visit appreciably better? How is this going to be measured?
– What proportion of visitors are going to use it? If it isn’t at least 50% then is it still worth the ongoing investment?
– Can and will there be investment in enough staff to meet the changed demands of visitors should they begin to expect more? What if they want what things that the museum was never setup to provide?

Every single day we poke at these questions. Its not getting any easier, nor is it likely to improve.