Museums are more and more community connectors and places for people to meet not only their friends, but also strangers… The Wellcome collection has achieved that by creating several event programmes that engage their audiences at different level. One of these programmes, Open Platform, will be explored by Rosie Stanbury, Head of the Live Programme at the Wellcome Collection, during her talk “Talking to Strangers” during the next edition of We Are Museums in Riga.

Open Platform” is a way for the Wellcome Collection to give the keys of their Reading Room to their audience: anyone can submit a proposal for a one-hour event, discuss its feasibility with the museum’s Events Officer and maybe see it come to life. Selected events have to have a strong connection with the Reading Room – a space that invites audiences to dig into what it means to be human through books and artefacts –, focus on low-tech activities (poetry readings, drawing workshops, discussions…) and of course strongly involve their audience – that never exceeds 20 people. Successful events are participatory and encourage people engage with each other as well as with the Reading Room subject matter.

Open Platform is only a piece of the event programme of the Wellcome Collection, an experiential place directed to people that are 14 and older.

In Friday Late Spectaculars, visitors are invited to explore a subject – such as miniatures, the nose or elements – with artists, scientists, performers, writers, speakers and enthusiasts that they can meet in the whole building.

On a different scale, the Sick of The Fringe, that took place during an extended weekend in February, explored the body’s problems and possibilities with artists and scientists. It allowed audiences to reflect on their own bodies and selves through discussions, performances and installations such as We are the Latest Models of our Ancestry, that challenged perceptions of museum objects and what and who they belong to and what they say about us when put into a museum.

But Open Platform has a special place in the Wellcome Collection schedule. While it focuses on short events and small-scale, the programme also is a way for the museum audience to build their own events and to be community activators.

Attend We Are Museums on June 12 & 13 and let Rosie Stanbury tell you all about it!

A couple of months  ago, #dayoffacts encouraged cultural institutions – museums, libraries, universities… – to share actual facts about climate change, human rights, gender equality against a backdrop continued political controversy and unrest. The initiative, even though it is declared as not political, clearly aimed to fight against the rise of “alternative facts”, reality-twisting lies that have achieved mainstream visibility in the latest US presidential race and in the first weeks of the Donald Trump presidency.

Mara Kurlandsky and Alli Hartley, who are behind Day Of Facts, have successfully brought together major institutions like the Getty and the American Museum of Natural History, as well as smaller ones from all over the world – and some institutions are still using the hashtag #dayoffacts to share gifs, videos and pictures, the best of it being collected in this Storify.

After this first Day Of Facts and before we celebrate Earth Day with marches and teach-ins, we took time to speak with Mara Kurlandsky who looks back at the duo’s project, next initiatives in museum activism and how it feels to have your hashtag reused by the very content you are fighting against.

More empowered, emboldened museums are reaffirming their mission statement

Kurlandsky did consider #dayoffcats a success as it emboldened publicly-funded institutions to raise their voice: ‘we saw tons of institutions sharing facts about climate change, stories about immigrants and refugees in their own communities and in history, artists that are working with “controversial topics,” primary source documentation about racism and slavery, stories about projects funded by federal agencies that expand access to science and art education to low-income communities.’, she recalls.

Institutions within and outside the US did successfully merge the concept with their own message, thus showing the need for a platform in the “post-fact” world, which signals a likely evolution towards more affirmation of the role of museums and knowledge-based institutions as fact-checkers and providers.

‘It was wonderful to see how different organizations embraced the concept and really made it their own, especially science organizations and libraries. For example, the Field Museum created a wonderful video with around 40 staff members, the European science organization Ecsite devoted a whole online magazine issue to communicating about science (…) and many libraries created guides and resources about how to find reliable sources and navigate information overload. In that sense, it was extremely successful, because they used #DayofFacts as a framework that organizations could use to authentically communicate their own mission.’

Artist Willem de Kooning was an illegal immigrant. Find out about art by immigrants in our collection: #dayoffacts

— Georgia MuseumofArt (@GMOA) 17 février 2017

Neutrality, not an option anymore

Ironically enough, #dayoffacts” was used by alternative facts providers on Twitter, but that can only be good, right?

I’ll take it as a measure of success that the museums and institutions posted enough early in the day to get the tag trending, enough that lots of people started using it in ways we hadn’t intended. I’m not going to lie, it was hard going through all the tweets the day after and weeding out the bad ones—as you pointed out, many of the tweets were the exact kind of content we were trying to fight against, like conspiracy theories and really negative rhetoric. But given that the word “facts” has become politicized, I suppose it was inevitable.’

As for the future of #DayOfFacts, Kurlandsky and Hartley will have to give it some good thinking from the gathered experience and data of past February and continuing. However they do see #DayOfFacts as a very timely event.  This maybe because being a part of the ongoing dialogue is not, in this time and age, an option anymore for museums.

‘we have a lot of contacts for  enthusiastic organizations that we can call on for other actions. Alli and I have both been inspired by many different people who have been pushing museums towards being more social justice oriented, and we’re hoping to link the energy for #DayofFacts into work that’s already been done. For me, I would like to push beyond making facts the focus and into enabling museums to take more bold positions about issues that directly affect our visitors. I know a lot of museums have been holding panel discussions or events to talk about current events. Two recent examples: the Hammer Museum held an event about getting involved in activism, and the Brooklyn Museum held a panel to educate about immigrant rights, that I believe was attended by around 500 people. I’d love to see more of that. The next few years may get really scary for a lot of people, and I don’t think neutrality is an option anymore, for individuals or for institutions.’

After extensive experiments from the Cooper-Hewitt around chatbots, other museums have gone on with experimenting with this new way of engaging their audiences.

At the end of last month, two chatbots joined the small crew of museum-powered conversational tools to inform audience everywhere about History and art.

On Facebook, a natural place for chatbots, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam has launched a Messenger bot that allows users to discover the History of Anne Frank and her history on the one hand and find practical information about coming to the museum on the other hand.

On a historical level, the bot offers different conversation paths, allowing the users to choose between knowing more about different sides of Anne Frank’s story in bite-sized pieces that make it easy to grasp, from her diary to the World War II context it was written in. While the museum also allows visitors from the whole world to discover its on-site must-sees, it is also meant to help them understand the risks and effects of racism and discrimination that society is facing today.

While the Anne Frank House bot carries a strong social message, others are more strictly focused on the discovery of their collection. It is the case for the SFMOMA. Choosing a tech similar to the Cooper-Hewitt’s Object Phone by focusing on texting, the museum has been testing a service with which users send texts to their number with keywords and receive answers with a picture of a piece of the collection with its title, artist and year of creation. It is a way to make their artworks more accessible to users all around the world (although users outside of the US can be charged for texts to an American number), reaching out to different audiences as they did with their audioguide.

The project – called “Send me SFMOMA” – underwent a beta-test phase that is now over, but it could respond to anything from “Send me kite” to “Send me trucks”, sometimes answering with pictures that would miss the actual keyword. The testing phase is now over and the bot is momentarily not available to use, but we cannot wait to see how it evolves, maybe allowing more complex interactions, such as the access to more information about artworks or the ability to receive answers to more complex questions.

Museum traditionally are mostly dedicated to one sense: the sight. Even though there are concert halls and auditoriums within museums, and even though technology has allowed the integration of sound and smell into both art and scenography, no museum has been using and studying the effects of appealing to all five senses to create compelling experiences on the regular basis.

But a couple of weeks ago, the Peabody Essex Museum received a grant  from the Barr Foundation for a very special mission: bring a neuroscience researcher on staff and add three neuroscientists to the museum as advisers. Those staff additions will allow the museum to study and understand how visitors’ brains reacts to art, how emotions are triggered and how they can make the most of it to engage their audiences with art. The idea of including neuroscience in the museum’s work is not new for the museum’s director Dan L. Monroe, who asked neuroscientist Bevil Conway to deliver a speech about neuroaestethics to the museum’s staff a few years ago. Ever since, he has been trying to put neuroscience findings to a good use by making museum more impactful as museum attendance is falling in the USA.

And while having a neuroscientist on staff to understand how the brain reacts to art and to use it to rethink the museum space is quite new, it does make sense: What are museums about if not about creating emotions, triggering emotions, leaving a mark in people’s lives?

The Peabody Essex Museum already did some changes in their exhibition spaces: smaller rooms with fewer works of art and asking questions instead of didactic labels are ways that engage people and activates the brain by giving visitors “an enhanced sense of exploration and discovery”, as Mr. Monroe said. Those best practices with probably many others will later on be published in a guide to be shared with all the museums.

If you are looking for best practices on how to use the power of the brain to engage audiences, there already is at least one book on the subject, entitled Hack the Experience: Tools for Artists from Cognitive Science. It is meant for artists but not only, taking a global approach of how to engage audiences in an artistic experience through senses, emotions, disorientation, socially-engaged practices…

These level and scale of blending art and science are unique, but the idea of studying the brain’s reactions in museums can easily be traced back to earlier experiences, even including responses of the brain… and the body to works of art depicting actions, like details of the Sistine Chapel and Degas’ ballerinas.

Experimenting with neurosciences and senses has also proven successful at several exhibitions, including the second edition of the IK Prize at Tate, when the Tate Sensorium immersive experience gave the visitors’ brains multi sensorial impulses in front of 4 chosen artworks from the Tate collections. And if you want to experience with your own brain right now, the Museum of New and Old Art in Tasmania explores with Brian Boyd the way cognitive signals have shaped art and helped us survive since the beginning of time in an exhibition that uses all kinds of patterns to engage with its audience.

Museums are jumping in the creative space bandwagon and we have to wonder: how much of this is movement in skin deep and how much shows an deep change of mindset in our beloved institutions?

Matt Richards, founder of Hīnātore, Te Papa Museum’s recently open Learning Lab, tells us about his first museum lab building and how museums are actually key places for lifelong, meaningful and empowering educational experiences.

Classroom to lab: creating the possibility of change

“Te Papa wanted to replace its old classroom space with an innovative Learning Lab for school students and the general public. It wanted to increase engagement with collections, make learning experiential, utilise educational technologies and expand its learning community. I was contracted by Te Papa 11 months ago to lead the design and creation of the Learning Lab and its programmes. I’ve worked in education for the past 10 years as a teacher, director and technologist. I’ve created innovative learning centres, learning labs and makerspaces for schools and social enterprises in Australia and New Zealand. This is my first museum. What an adventure! Te Papa Tongarewa is an amazing and unique place. It’s the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand. Its mission to “change hearts, minds & lives” resonates in its exhibitions and willingness to innovate. Te Papa is currently undergoing a renewal process. The whole museum is evolving and changing. In 2016 it launched its new innovation incubator Mahuki to help create world leading digital experiences for the cultural sector. Hīnātore Learning Lab is the second innovation cab off the rank in Te Papa’s current evolution.

Hīnātore Learning Lab is a place to test and experiment. The exponential changes occurring in learning and technology have created a need for agility in museums. The Learning Lab is a place to try new ideas, technologies and learning experiences. What we are learning in the Lab is helping inform and catalyse change for the whole renewal process.

We created the Learning Lab in record time. This was due in large part, to the small (but high powered) team of specialists working on the project. The Hīnātore team are learning innovation specialists, educational technologists and (most importantly) lifelong learners. We reflect on and improve learning programmes daily. This level of agility requires stamina, growth mindsets and a capacity to pivot quickly. We were lucky enough to contract a couple of my former colleagues who I knew had the required skillset and mindset.

We ran a think-tank early in the development process. We invited school principals, students and teachers from across New Zealand to come and brainstorm what a museum Learning Lab could be. This consultation process informed our approach to the learner-centric and technology supported educational experiences we are offering.”

Learning with collections and technology (c)Matt Richards 2017

Learning first, technology second

“We utilise the 21st Century core competencies (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking), SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model and a modified Lean canvas as frameworks for programme development. We use a learning first, technology second approach. Once we clarify the learning objectives we experiment with emerging technologies to create exciting learning experiences not previously possible. We look for ways to extend access and deepen learning by combining collections, exhibitions and technology. 6 months ago we had some teachers from Auckland visit the museum to see the Pacific exhibition and collections. Their students were studying Pacific migration histories. We took them back of house into the Pacific collection to look at vaka (traditional Pacific sailing vessels). This visit highlighted how underutilised the collections are for learning purposes and inspired one of our current programmes, Pacific Explorers. We 3D scanned the vaka from the collection and 3D printed versions the students could handle and play with. Students design and 3D print their own vaka using web based cad software. They also make vaka with hands-on materials and craft. We import the digital 3D vaka into virtual reality (VR) and provide students the opportunity to sail on a vaka on a virtual Pacific Ocean. Using Google Earth and Google My Maps on touch tables, students collaboratively map their own personal migration stories. We provide students with smartphones to explore Tangata o le Moana: The story of Pacific people in New Zealand exhibition. They digitally gather evidence to explore migration stories and collaboratively discuss their discoveries. Students learn how to navigate using star compasses in VR and making traditional stick charts. We want to extend and enrich object based learning with technology.”

Lego drone from our upcoming Flying Machines Programme
(c)Matt Richards 2017

Tech made easy

“I choose technologies for the lab that support development of 21st Century core competencies. We use VR so learners can create and collaborate in real time with people who are geographically remote. We use 3D scanners attached to iPads so learners can easily scan collection objects and learn through the process. We chose touch tables because they are collaborative and support self-directed learning (the touch tables we chose respond to collection objects placed on them using fiducial markers and a tangible engine system). Accessibility is important. Where possible we chose technologies that are free (or inexpensive) so learners can continue to use them after their visit. In our Gallipoli Perspectives programme, students create their own VR experience of Gallipoli: The scale of our war exhibition using the Cardboard Camera app on smartphones. They experience and share their VR movies using Google Cardboard VR viewers.

Testing various technologies and planning in research and development time is vital. Intuitive tech is best. Technology that doesn’t need too much instruction to use. Technology that does its job and lets the learning happen. It probably helps that I’m a self confessed tech geek and spend a lot of my spare time tinkering and researching. :)”

Hīnātore Learning Lab
(c)Matt Richards 2017

Turning the tables on education

“We define “learner” as everyone , including us! We want to empower lifelong learning. I designed Hīnātore Learning Lab as a learning commons for everyone (students, public and Te Papa staff). Ako is a Māori term for both teaching and learning. The New Zealand Ministry of Education defines Ako as a non-hierarchical, reciprocal learning relationship. We can all learn from each other. The capacity to self-direct one’s learning is vital in today’s rapidly changing world. As Eric Hoffer once said, “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists”.

We are engaging an external research partner to study Hīnātore Learning Lab and assess its effectiveness as a learning model. We also internally utilise feedback from learners to inform Hīnātore’s evolution. At this early stage, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Personally, through creating the Learning Lab here at Te Papa I have learnt that museums can be a powerful force for change in the world. Museums can preserve the past and also help create the future. I believe Mr. Mandela was correct when he said “education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. When we combine museum collections and hands-on educational technologies, magic (and learning) happens!””

Matt Richards
Senior Advisor Learning Innovation
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongawera

Matt is an education director, learning innovation leader and educational technologist. He has 10 years experience creating innovative learning environments, high performing teams and education programmes in schools, social enterprise and government organisations. Matt pioneered the maker education movement in Australian schools and founded an international games-based learning project. He employs emerging technologies to empower learners and build global learning communities. Matt is a Google Certified Innovator and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

After a few weeks of both articles wondering if the Met Museum was in decline and an article by Thomas P. Campbell reminding the importance of funding the arts, a big news shook up the museum world: Thomas P. Campbell, director of the largest museum in New York for 8 years, has resigned at the end of February. His resignation was announced after the stepping down of several senior staff members of the Met.
The main reason for this wave of departures and resignations seems to be financial: While the museum’s attendance has broken records during the last couple of years, Thomas P. Campbell leaves the museum with a multi-million deficit, partly caused by the opening of Met Breuer, a settlement around the admission charge, an expensive yet criticised change of logo and the decline of retail revenue.

But beyond the strictly financial management, some critics seem to believe a wider strategy issue is at stake. As the audience for arts is changing and needs museums to adapt to them, did the Met try hard enough? On a digital level, it did launch the successful Met MediaLab in 2013 and it used to be a space for museum staff, artists, students and other outside players to meet around tech and innovative project. The Met MediaLab is still considered a model experience in the museum field but closed at the end of September 2016. Then again, projects like the Met Museum app may not have been fully embraced by audiences (the app has 50,000 downloads on Android, which seems low compared to the more than 6 million annual visitors of the museum). Last month, the Met released its digitised artwork collection in a dedicated platform and make public domain artifacts free to use, but with no clear strategy or incentives for people to use and reuse the content.
Those projects are both obvious steps for a museum as big as the Met, but they still require guidance and direction to fit properly in the museum’s overall strategy and be presented to the audience as something bringing real added values to their on-site or online experience – which may not have been the case at the Met.
One reason for this may be the Met Museum decided to really invest in digital projects a bit late. Maybe even too late to stay on top of the trend and make digital and innovation into a real strong point of the museum’s strategy.

As a museum professional or a museum lover, you are probably deeply convinced that bringing teens into museums is a great opportunity to broaden their mind, help them empathise with other culture, and of course build a long-lasting relationship with museums. But no comprehensive study had been conducted about the benefits of teen programs in art museums.

For several years, a range of major museums across the United States – the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles – have been studying effects of their teen programs, each one of them bringing diverse youth together with artists and museum staff around tailored activities and events.

Thanks to its length, the study Room to Rise has followed young people during several years to understand the short-term and long-term impact of museums, from right after the programs until their adult life. If you have ever wondered if teens really bring something home from their museum visit, the answer is yes. Even a single visit or field trip increases the ability to think critically about art and to understand how people from other time periods and world regions lived.
Of course, welcoming teens in museum also has effects on their own lives, in the way they build their own identity and self-awareness, the way their imagine their future and their career – with lower drop-out rates for example, the way they are engaged in their community.

In a time when the political role of museums is clearly reinvented, it is interesting to see that museums can actually shape future citizens of the world by finding the right way to engage with them – and that is also a way to build their own sustainability, through ensuring a lifelong relationship to museums and a worldview grounded in art, and even turning these teens into future museum professionals.
Museums are not only actors of their community, they can get young people to become (future) members of their community and neighbourhood.
But what makes a successful teen program? It can be an Art Party around a current exhibition as at the NGV, a collaborative art lab like at the SMK or even a program specifically aimed to LGBTQ youth as the one set up by MoMA.

For the Getty, success is as much about learning to make connections between artworks and between art and their own reality as it is about making the museum accessible. Indeed, when the cost of transportation is the first obstacle preventing a field trip, it is important to find a way to get the students physically inside of the museum.
Obstacles and expectations for the schools of your area may be different, but they need to be truly taken into account: each community has their own needs and specificities, don’t hesitate to both survey the teachers and the students to understand how you can build an offer that is really relevant and can echo their own experience. Providing a really compelling experience – like the also is a way to turn students into ambassadors of your museum in their own family, making them come back with their parents to share bits of what they saw and felt, or on their own to explore further, and maybe far enough to one day join your teams.

Museums and other cultural institutions share knowledge, open inclusive dialogues and make us to meet the world by showing how its otherness can enrich every single one of us. While these tasks have been traditionally fulfilled with layers of mediation and distance that allowed museums to step back and put current events in a broader historical context, their involvement definitely took a different turn in the past weeks, as exceptional times call for exceptional measures.

On many levels, the US presidential campaign has been unique and so have the very first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency. Threats on women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, Muslim ban, tweets about everything from Meryl Streep to the US-Mexican Border Wall, plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, repeal of the affordable care act and, of course, the rise of fake news and alternative facts.
In all this craziness, American museums and cultural institutions have chosen to focus on their core missions and foster inclusiveness, raising from soft power to counterpower.

On inauguration day, the Museum of the Moving Image launched Shia LaBeouf’s performance and installation “He Will Not Divide Us” right outside the museum. While the performance was supposed to last four years, inviting passersby to engage and everyone on the internet to watch, the installation was closed last Friday because it had become “a flashpoint for violence and was disrupted from its original intent” but is still considered by the museum as a successful “engaging and thought-provoking digital art installation”.
Although the installation was designed in advance (but over the course of two months, which can already seem short for a lot of museums), Donald Trump has also triggered very spontaneous reactions from the cultural world.

NYC: know your rights! We’re hosting a day of info sessions w/ lawyers & activists. Drop-ins welcome! #BodyPolitic

— New Museum (@newmuseum) 5 février 2017

In the same effort to include everyone in the protest and be at its center, the New Museum has launched an event called “Body Politic” that gathers artists, activists, lawyers around the issues at risk: healthcare, prisons, immigrations, the environment, indigenous rights… The session that took place at the beginning at February was not just a discussion about rights, it was an open conversation about civil disobedience, protest and related legal issues. A way to push the museum crowd to get involved in the protest or at least think about how to get involved and for which causes.

But performance and conversation are not the only way for museums to speak up their mind and collections have become a battleground as well. A week after the executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim countries to enter the United States, three MoMA curators and an assistant curator decided to join the protest it sparked off by replacing some exhibited artworks by contemporary art by artists from Iran, Iraq and Sudan – three of the seven countries targeted by the ban – and a work from a Syrian artist has been added to the film program. If choosing masterpieces that would be taken down to free up space was no easy task, the newly exhibited artwork has been selected to be culturally impactful and representative and still fit well within the galleries, creating parallels with artworks that were already in the exhibition space. This quickly decided step shows how art opens a conversation and builds bridges between cultures, mirroring the idea of American melting pot in which every culture can be embraced.

As History is unrolling in front of us, the conservation and hanging of already acquired artwork is not enough for some museums and libraries. Some have highlighted book selections that allow a better understanding of different cultures (and especially Islam) and have also decided to fulfill their role of collecting testimonies of History by crowdsourcing objects used during protest like the Women’s march, which include protest signs and banners, badges, pins, videos, pictures. Curators from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History even have enough objects from the D.C. Women’s march to add to the exhibition about historic marches in “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden”.

Marching this weekend? We’re collecting #ephemera as part of a living archive of modern protest! DM us for details. #womensmarch

— Newberry Library (@NewberryLibrary) 20 janvier 2017

And as no modern-day protest would be complete without a bit of social media, museums and other public sources of knowledge will be taking part in a #DayOfFacts on February 17th. In a dynamic similar to the one of rogue accounts of Federal agencies and of the hashtag #MuseumsAndSocialJustice, any museum, library, archive, science center… in the world can join this one of a kind occasion to fight alternative facts on social media, where they are usually spread. The event is not meant to take an “overt political stand” but simply invites institutions to carry out their sharing mission with content about their collection or staff that is “relevant to this particular moment in American history”, in which actively sharing truths about refugees, the environment and Civil rights – among other subjects – can be considered resistance.

Cultural institutions are not used to act that fast with such a big impact on their exhibitions, schedule or collections. Should they step back or should they keep getting involved? Is it their place to almost instantly mirror society (and probably the views of their visitors, judging by the frequentation of the exhibitions and events) or should they take a step back and imagine a way to work as usual? Would it be too late?

Then again, if museums don’t get involved, who will? They are already involved in the political debate against their will through the plan to defund the National Endowment for the Arts (which would also have consequences on non-state funding, as donation could be no longer be tax-deductible). Maybe joining and helping protests is just a way of highlighting the need for all the targets and potential targets of Donald Trump’s policies to show a united front. Maybe it is just a way of fulfilling their mission of social players and strongly reconnecting with their communities in a time when some of their values seem under threat.

From new experiential projects to creative spaces, museums act more and more like creative hubs and labs. In December 2016, the Science Museum Group launched their Digital Lab which aim is to analyze how museums dive into the digital age. With the earlier opening of the London Science Museum kids’ paradise “Wonderlab” and “Mathematics, a new display designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the Science Museum Group is turning into a real futuristic experience-focused space for all types of audiences.  The Digital Lab is slated to become a great source of information on the evolution of museums and their role facing the technological developments supported by Samsung who fully sponsors the project. We interviewed John Stack, Digital Director and Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Science Museum Group to better understand how the lab was born and where it is headed.

Work in progress — Lab 1: Virtual Reality Experience for Samsung Gear VR

We Are Museums: How did the project start? did the idea come from top deciders, practitioners or from an external actor? How is the project included in the Science Museum Group’ strategy? 

John Stack and Dave Patten: The Digital Lab is a core component of the Science Museum Group’s digital strategy.
The four museums in the Science Museum Group (Science Museum, London; National Media Museum, Bradford, Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester; and National Railway Museum, York) are all undertaking major projects to redisplay the collection. Digital technologies will, of course, be a fundamental component of these new displays and refreshed visitor experience.

However, digital technologies are evolving rapidly as is audience behaviour. Alongside, these large-scale projects which have a lifetime measured in decades, we could see all manner of exciting opportunities that can flourish without the constraint of long-term sustainability and which could also be pathfinder projects for future digital initiatives.

Indeed, the Science Museum already had undertaken a number of lab-like projects notably the point cloud scan of the Shipping Galleries and Web Lab and we are keen to see more of this activity.

The Digital Lab operates at the intersection of content, design, user experience and technology. Among the many areas which we are interested in exploring are:

• What kinds of immersive and augmented technologies can most effectively bring collection objects to life?
• How can new forms of digitisation and digital presentation of objects provide new forms of access?
• How can we best use digital to layer information for different museum audiences?
• How might location-aware mobile technologies enable audience to experience collection objects in the places where those objects have a significance?
• How might we build on the collection catalogue to create user interfaces that encourage new forms of exploration and discovery?
• What might the next generation on gallery digital content delivery be like?
• What new kinds of games might engage new audiences with the museums and their collection?

Work in progress — Lab 2: Enhanced digitisation for Mathematics: The Winton Gallery

We Are Museums: The Science Museum is getting much attention lately with WonderLab and the crowdfunding campaign for Eric, the UK’s first robot. What are the links between the Lab’s project and the other Science Museum’s innovation and digital projects?

John Stack and Dave Patten: The Digital Lab’s launch is aligned with the opening of Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, a stunning new display designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.

The three first Digital Lab projects are all related to or inspired by the Mathematics gallery:
• enhanced digitisation of objects in the displays,
• a VR experience around the Handley Page aircraft which is the centrepiece of the gallery,
• a series of hackdays using open data sets from the museum.
We Are Museums: Samsung is the founding partner of the Lab. What is their involvement in the project except besides the funding aspect?

John Stack and Dave Patten: Samsung are the founding partner of the Digital Lab and have supported the projects by sharing their expertise as we developed the VR experience. They will also play a part in the hackdays that we will announce in early 2017.

Work in progress — Lab 2: Enhanced digitisation for Mathematics: The Winton Gallery

We Are Museums: Did you get any help from someone to help implement new ways of thinking within the Science Museum Group? Did yourself or the team receive a special training to run the Lab? 

John Stack and Dave Patten: The Digital Lab will explore the tension between the relatively short life span of some digital technologies and the lifespan of a permanent museum gallery which can be upwards of twenty years. The Digital Lab is embedded in the the inhouse team and we’re looking to work with the best external partners we can who have expertise in specialised areas. For the Handley Page VR experience we’ve worked with the digital agency Preloaded, for the enhanced digitisation we worked with Drew Gardner and Tom Flynn from MuseumInABox, and for the hack days we’re working with Mar Dixon and Don Undeen.

We Are Museums: How is the project deployed in the 4 museums? How do you keep a sense of strategy and unity across museums? How are the teams organised?

John Stack and Dave Patten: At present the projects are all located at the Science Museum in London, but we absolutely intend to extend this to the other museums in the group.  In the New Year we will start to work closely with the other museums in the group to identify Digital Lab projects that respond to the key challenges they face.

We Are Museums: How will the results from the 3 projects be shared with the public? Does this project signal a wider collaboration with other science museums? 

John Stack and Dave Patten: The results from the projects will all be made public beginning in 2017. The VR experience will be available in the Mathematics gallery at certain times, the enhanced digitisation will be incorporated into online narrative stories around the collection and the hackdays will hopefully coincide with evening openings where participants will be able to present their work.

The Digital Lab will be regularly blogging about the work it is doing. Code and assets developed by the Lab will be made available for reuse via GitHub.

The Digital team at the museum has always been in regular contact with museum’s across the world but our hope is that the Digital Lab should make project based collaboration with other museums easier.

Museums are entering an era of deep change in their physicality. Meant to elevate our spirit, educate us and teach about history, they are becoming economic agents of our society and ACMIX is one of the most relevant and newest examples, of a “next generation creative hub”. Last May 2016, the Australian Center of Moving Image of Melbourne launched a huge co-working space open to the public fully attached to ACMI offices to facilitate creative and innovative cooperations.

We interviewed Katrina Sedgwick, CEO and Director of the ACMI and proud mother of the ACMIX.


      1.        One of the aim of ACMI X is to become a fertile ground for creativity, but gathering people isn’t always enough to connect. How do you help them really mingle and build a community?

Its not enough just to create proximity between people – particularly of different disciplines where the synergies may not be immediately obvious. We have consciously invited practitioners and businesses in that have a range of practice and output to encourage cross disciplinary conversation, to help peers to inspire each other to think about new approaches and new ways of working – and potentially to foster new collaboration.

At ACMI X we have a number of ways to find connections – not only between the tenants in the co-working space, but between the 80 ACMI staff and the 10 staff from the National Film & Sound Archive’s Melbourne office which also co-locates with us. We have dedicated significant space to create a social space – it houses a well appointed kitchen (with excellent coffee machine) and a light bright area where people use for their meetings but also for having their lunch. Its has the obligatory ping pong table and some arcade video games, and also doubles as an events space, for up to 120 people.

In this space we program meet ups, show and tell sessions from ACMI X tenants, expert speakers and panellists (this week we have Julia Kaganskiy for an in conversation from New Inc), we work with a range of other partner organisations which also use the space. Interestingly the co-workers have been most consistently engaged with the skills development sessions we run – across rights issues, legal and financial systems and structures etc. That how to stuff is so important – be they are theatre company or an app developer or a youtube aggregator.

Another very important aspect of the co-working space is the partnerships with two universities – University of Melbourne and RMIT. Both institutions have taken 6 desks each – the former through their Arts & Humanities faculty, the second through Media and Design. We are in the very early stages of the partnerships, but the vision is to a) enable university students and staff to develop connection with ACMI and industry in very direct ways but b) to develop collaborative research projects over time, not only with ACMI but with practitioners.

credit Andrew McColl

credit Andrew McColl

Credit Andrew McColl

Credit Andrew McColl


  1.       How do you involve curators and other ACMI staff at ACMI X?

Importantly ACMI X houses all of us together – 150 people all up – and the co-working space is part of our space, and not separated in any way. So we sit near each other every day, and talk whilst making coffee.

We are finding lots of opportunity for collaboration and this is happening quite organically. Most of the businesses or practitioners we house relate in some way to the moving image industries and therefore cross over with the work we do every day – indeed that was part of why we set up the co-working space! So recently we presented a VR day as part of Melbourne International Games Week  – both VR focussed resident companies (VRTOV and Jumpgate VR) participated in talks and were able to showcase their work. On October 31 we launched our most recent commission – an adaptation of a digital theatre piece Ghost Toasts and Things Unsaid into a VR installation piece – by Sandpit (based at ACMI X) with Grumpy Sailor and Google Creative.

The Interaction Consortium are working on the backend of our new website, with their excellent product GLAMkit. Little Big Shots, a children film festival, is based at ACMI X and they have long been a festival we partner with and present in our cinemas.

Credit Andrew McColl

Credit Andrew McColl

  1.       Is having the brains of the future of moving image in your walls initiating new collections or exhibitions opportunities?

Yes it is – we opened the co-working space in May and by October had presented our first commission. And that will continue with ACMI X members feeding into our curatorial processes as required.


Credit Andrew McColl

  1.       What are your 5 takeaways you can share with our museum community to be able to open a successful co-working space in a museum?

Be open and share. There was some initial reluctance to have the co-workers in the same secure space as all of us – but having our co-workers so readily nearby as our staff is already bringing wonderful benefits to everyone and creating connection that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

Resource it properly – it has to be adequately staffed as a project like this not only requires substantial administration but needs a dynamic creative producer focus to enable and leverage the connections and opportunities of the space. Ensure you set up a sustainable financial model that can pay for a great person to drive the show

There are numerous successful models – and ours is still evolving. ACMI X is a co-working space with an associated industry program, Mahuki at TePapa is much more of a project driven incubator/lab based model as is New Inc at the New Museum. We are looking at developing a short term lab project alongside the ongoing co-working space – and will continue to evolve the project – but there is lots of potential funding available as governments understand the importance of the small to medium sector and the value of ‘creative tech’ in the start-up space…

Why are you doing it? It’s important to be clear why you are doing it – and that philosophy will then drive the way you set up the project and how you connect it into your organisations on a daily basis but also how you connect it to you audience. For ACMI, a relatively young museum, we want to build a community of ‘ownership’ across the moving image industries, we want to leverage our substantial resources back into the sector, we want to illuminate the process of creation and development for our audiences, and as a State funded museum we want to align to the broader context the government’s strategies.

Make it a beautiful space to be in – that has been vital for our staff and for our tenants. Six Degrees Architects have done a wonderful job, and it’s a great space to work in that is permeable and open, yet highly focussed and productive.

Credit Andrew McColl

Credit Andrew McColl

And to go deeper in your understanding of creative spaces in museums, register to our webinar “Makers + Museums = Love” next 9 December at 6PM (GMT+1)!