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.
What if your smartphone could host not only content surrounding an exhibition, but the exhibition itself? Through a unique partnership, Rhizome and the New Museum launched an app dedicated to virtual reality art.
First Look: Artists’ VR, available both for iOS and Android, allows users to experience virtual reality art for free, just by downloading the app, the chosen artwork and by putting their phone into a VR headset. For the launch, six commissioned experiences have been included in the app and they can be described as socially-involved, violent, contemplative or magical through the immersion in audiovisual worlds.
Virtual Reality could already be experienced within the museum venue and with or without screens like at ACMI X or at the Palace of Whitehall. Then again, the Dali Museum created a video inspired by Dali’s universe and released it online to go along with an exhibition. First Look: Artists’ VR also isn’t the New Museum’s first online exhibition, but the continuation of a schedule of online exhibitions started back in 2012. But what makes this VR exhibition unique is the fact that is what first and foremost created to be shared for free with anyone with a smartphone and something as cheap as a Google Cardboard and does not exist at all within the walls of the new museum.
The partnership is also a perfect example of how a museum incubator can expand a museum’s activity. Indeed, Rhizome – an advocate for contemporary arts and digital cultures – is one of the two biggest members of the New Inc., the New Museum’s incubator. EEVO, the startup that provided the VR platform, is not part of New Inc. but the partnership is the great example of how open innovation can provide an experience that is powerful and unique and fully aligned with a museum’s missions of making art always more accessible and fostering young artists and new forms of art.
The world’s very first venue enabled with Google Tango is the Detroit Institute of Arts!
After much testing, Google finally created an onsite experience with Tango, its powerful indoor mapping technology and augmented reality platform. The tech recognizes features of a room, stitches together 3D maps and locates users in the mapped space, allowing them to interact with their environment on their phone, by adding digital artefacts like moving dinosaurs or furniture.
But Tango still needed to be implemented in a real-life venue. Continuing Google’s commitment to work with cultural institutions, the Detroit Institute of Arts now lets visitors request a Lenovo Phab 2 Pro (one of the two Tango-enabled smartphones existing to date) and see exhibits in a new light: in the archeology department, the smartphone rebuilds the murals behind statues, shows colors that were painted on wall thousands of years ago and x-rays sarcophagi to display the skeletons they contain.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg stated more than a year ago that VR and AR would be the next most engaging content after video. Although there have been engaging VR and AR experiences, none had provided a compelling experience that would truly augment the user’s environment thanks to something as simple as a smartphone. This is what the Detroit Institute of Arts achieve thanks to Google Tango: allow users to explore the exhibits by building an experience for which both the museum and the tech that we already carry in our pocket (let’s assume that more and more smartphones will be Tango-enabled) are essential.
Smartphones here are used to do much more than provide information as they do with many great museum apps, they immerse the visitor in the context of the artefacts… Maybe one day they will even do as much as recreated a whole AR moving scene that will be explorable on screen?
Of course, tech has already been used to reveal archeological artefacts as they used to be when they were built, like at the Met, when the Media Lab mapped the Temple of Dendur and used a projector to give it its colors back. But as augmented reality became truly mainstream last year thanks to Pokemon Go, it is fascinating to see how museums use it to experiment new features and how it can use museums to be tested. Google has signed partnerships with several other museums to implement Tango and we cannot wait to see what projects will be released next!
How long does it take to clean a still huge whale model? Who are the archaeologists that uncovered your favorite exhibit? Is a polar bear closer to a koala or to a human baby? Those are only some of the questions that Explorer, the app the American Museum of Natural History just updated last month, will give you the answer to.
The app was designed with young and teen audiences in mind: just as their everyday apps offer a seamless mobile experience, Explore is built around content that is both fun and informative and highlighted by great UX.
In a museum that can seem as overwhelmingly huge as the American Museum of Natural History does, a good guide is one that tells you about exhibits, but also helps you choose what you will see and helps you get there. And that is exactly what happens as soon as a visitor opens the app for the first time: If you do it yourself, you will be asked to turn Bluetooth on so you can be localized in the museum thanks to the 700 beacons and to choose your interest from a list of around twenty (including snacks and shops).
You will then scroll through major exhibits and points of interest that fit your choices and are either displayed as a list or as a map. The app will show you the way to the ones you want to see and give you information about both the exhibit in their natural context and in the museum context: fun facts, history, pop culture and behind the scenes provide information in a way that is easy to understand for everyone. As the AMNH frames it, the app is “like having a curator on your shoulder”, a very pedagogic one that wants you to have fun thanks to content that fits an era of content snacking but still finds ways to make you look at the exhibits to really enjoy the museum – two augmented reality games even let you play and interact with bears and dinosaurs.
The app has already been downloaded more than 100,000 times on Google Play (and is also available on the App Store, which does not make such figures available), which is much more that most museum apps out there. If the visitor experience is important, the fact that the content is fully enjoyable outside of the museum also is key. Quizzes, videos and sound are easy to scroll through wherever you are to learn a bit about birds, apes and mosquitoes and prepare your visit, tickets to the American Museum of Natural History being just a click away. Explore makes the most of our everyday mobile habits to highlight the museum… and it’s a real pleasure to use.
A Museum is most of the time a place where exhibits are shown out of their original environment, and context is brought by labels, scenography, introductory texts.
It is especially the case for historical and archaeological artefacts, that had a specific use beyond their esthetics. But the Archeologie Gemeente Den Haag chose to take a different approach to giving visitors context about their work and collection.
As the institution in charge of the archaeological and cultural heritable of The Hague in the Netherlands, Archeologie Gemeente Den Haag does not have a physical exhibition space of their own but is in charge of the excavation and conservation of various objects from all eras, from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.
Archeologie Den Haag started using 3D scanning to make the archaeologists’ work easier: It allowed a 360° manipulation of fragile objects as well as a reconstitution of full excavation sites that is more precise than drawing and photographs.
Sharing those 3D models of objects and sites was a later step. Indeed, Archeologie Den Haag started by making the models available to download on Sketchfab. To give those models their context back, Archeologie Den Haag then built a virtual museum around them. This virtual reality venue has 3 levels, each one allowing to learn about archeology and history in a way: the first level shows a classical museum with photographs and 3D objects, the second level shows a reconstruction of a prehistoric house, and the third level is a mini game in which players can excavate an archaeological pit.
While Archeologie Den Haag also organizes workshops and conferences for kids and adults in various cultural venues around The Hague, including their own headquarters, but this virtual museum is a very unique way to go beyond explaining the audience what archaeologists do and to bring them to experience it thanks to 3D reconstitutions that were initially meant to help the archaeologists.
It does on some level remind one of the digital extension of the Staedelmuseum, in which visitors can explore the museum at different times thanks to the museum scientists’ work.
Taking a similar but reversed approach, Project Mosul lets Sketchfab users create and upload 3D models of destroyed artefacts and buildings of cultural heritage in northern Iraq thanks to pictures taken by experts and tourists.
Tech and especially virtual reality reconstitutions prove as a great way to make scientific research more accessible and we cannot wait to see more projects that allow to popularize work that is usually hidden and available for experts only… or to have the public help scientists on a wider scale.
On a journey to discover the wonders of the Palladian Villas in the North of Italy, a stop at the Palladio Museum in Vicenza is an absolute must-see! The Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio is one of the most influential figures in the History of Architecture. His “Palladian Villas” were living spaces for the Venetian upper class in the countryside, inspired by symmetry, perspective and Ancient Greek and Roman architecture in harmony with Nature and the surrounding rural community.
Hosted in the Palazzo Barbarano, one of Palladio’s finest palaces, the museum was made to “unite the intimacy of the Soane Museum, the serenity of the Menil Collection, the efficiency of the Whitney and the sheer spectacle of Guggenheim” the Scandurra Studio, who created the museum, explained.
Visiting the museum makes it easier to understand the work process of Palladio. One starts the visit with the famous Four Books on Architecture (Palladio’s most important body of work) and his masterpiece, the Villa Rotonda built between 1566 and 1571 in Vicenza, then travels from one city to another to understand how his mind was shaped and how his villas were built. This definitely puts visitors in the right mindset to be able to really investigate Palladio’s work. The experience is really smooth and one absorbs knowledge without even realising.
This human touch is felt throughout the museum. You won’t find the regular cartel next to the works on display but a quote from a researcher. Then, one will enter a room and see an avatar of an expert giving you insights in Palladio’s work and life.
To ensure reaching a wider audience, the museum commissioned video artist Filippo Romano to create video stories on Palladio’s buildings in the Veneto today.
To show that Palladio inspired villas are now all around the world, the Studio Scandurra created a dynamic one-arm bandit that lets you discover drawings of villas, their country of origin, architect and date of creation.
The Palladio Museum has no collection, only endless knowledge from researchers and a few drawings from the Master himself they borrowed from the Royal Institute of British Architects. That’s why it decided to create most of the work on display, asking artists to collaborate and showcasing models of the Villa via several types of media.
It also includes bigger-scale copies of old paintings, like below
Use the stairs to display the chronology and you will make sure visitors WILL read it!
Museums are key players in education, both in art history and beyond. The London Science Museum has been taking their educational even more seriously since the opening of Wonderlab in October 2016.
Wonderlab is a space designed with kids in mind, so they can explore and experiment with more than 50 marvels of science. With scientific Explainers that take children through the experiments, parents are almost unnecessary and can just relax and learn along.
Wonderlab is the first truly immersive and interactive gallery of the London Science Museum. It is a place very different from any other, where children can (and are supposed to) run, touch everything, wreck things… to understand the answers to their wildest scientific questions.
With slides to learn about friction force and balloons to understand flammable gases, scientists from the Science Museum have worked to make all science principles understandable with references that are part of children’s everyday life, so they can both leave Wonderlab with a better knowledge of how science affects their environment. Exploration of the space has also been made fully intuitive: there is no route through Wonderlab, kids just run around and stop at whatever catches their eye and start experimenting freely.
And because our world belongs to each and everyone of us, the Science Museum is asking everyone to share their own wonders on social media with the hashtag #wonderis, offering an opportunity to make the outside world part of the museum thanks to tweetwall. The hashtag has not really been shared by users with that goal in mind, but it gives us a great idea of what is going on in Wonderlab.
As far as education through experimentation is concerned, the opening of Wonderlab can be compared to the opening of the Wanger Family Fablab at Madatech, Israel, where children can play with tech to have a better grasp of it, the Museum for Children, located in the State Ethnographic Museum of Warsaw, the V&A Museum of Childhood and the Cité des Enfants in the Parisian Cité des Sciences.
But Wonderlab has been curated by Muf, an architecture firm that has previously designed both urbanism and art projects, among which the British Pavilion of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale, with a whole space created as a space for discussions and workshops for Biennale visitors and local kids and schools. To mix art into science, Muf choose creative partners to design artworks and installations for Wonderlab. Artist Siobhan Liddell, whose work using ambient light and reflective properties of materials, has produced 13 prints for the Mathematics section; the Swedish studio Front has created an eight-meter-high solar system model (featured below); Muf has also chosen to work with artists who have special skills, like stone carving students and Felix de Pass, a designer specializing in furniture design.
Interestingly enough, Wonderlab is just one step of a major redesign of the science museum.
We cannot wait to see how the major architecture firms curating other galleries will find a common ground between their own imprint, artist commissions and the educative mission of the Science Museum, but no doubt it will be a wonder to visit.
In March, a new museum was added to the range of historical museums in Poland: The Ulma Museum, commemorating Polish families who saved or tried to save Jews during World War II. This very first museum dedicated to the Polish Righteous Among the Nations has been opened in Markowa, a 4000-inhabitant town in south-eastern Poland, where the Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children were executed by nazi soldiers in March 1944 along with the two Jewish families they had been hiding for eighteen months.
While the museum is physically rooted in a local story, it has both an international position and strives to encompass similar stories from all around Poland.
Although exhibits like original furniture and belongings of the Ulma families cannot leave Markowa, an exhibition entitled “Samaritans of Markowa” traveled through 27 seven cities – with a movie about the Markowa Massacre – to raise awareness and start a conversation about Polish Righteous. The building, designed by architect and interior designer Mirosław Nizio, hosts a reproduction of the Ulma house, but the fruit garden is a direct reference to both Jozef Ulma’s fruit garden and to the olive garden in Yad Vashem.
The Ulma Museum is not the only example of architecture and storytelling complementing each other to bring us History, and especially Jewish History, closer. It is the case at the Žanis Lipke Memorial in Riga, also dedicated to a Righteous among the nations. Built next to the home where Žanis Lipke hid Jews during WWII, the memorial includes a basement bunker that matches the size of the original cache, and architect Zaiga Gaile took her idea for the overall shape from sheds of fishermen, making the overall building evoke Noah’s Ark, with several references to both Lipke’s woodshed and the Promised Land.
The same very physical approach to History was taken by Moshe Safdie when he designed Yad Vashem: dark voids to represent the past and streams of light for the future, access to a two-story room filled with books of testimonies, a striking view of Jerusalem at the end of the visit make the World Holocaust Remembrance Center one of the most emotional museum to visit, even beyond its hard topic. In Warsaw, POLIN recreates the story of Jews in Poland by creating different scenographic settings and atmospheres for each part of History.
Those museums show us how architecture and scenography can be used to create strong emotions and help visitors feel immersed in even the hardest moments of History to raise awareness about something that should be considered as more than a History book issue.
Part of the story told by the Ulma museum can be found on their website: it carries pages with the story of the Ulma family and with the names of Polish Righteous that reflect tiles found in front of the museum. But as the museum collects more and more stories from all around Poland – that has more the 6,000 Righteous, we cannot wait to see how it integrates those immaterial exhibits into both the museum and the website.
While the museum social media pages and activities seem to make it a hub for all things about the Polish Righteous for an international audience, it would be amazing to see more of the content of the museum shared with the world. It could be a strong multimedia platform that goes beyond pictures and quotes of inhabitants of Markowa to include testimonies and stories of Righteous from all around Poland, Jewish families who could tell their stories and maybe historians explaining the role of Righteous and their meaning in recent History. A little bit like Virtual Shtetl, a project launched by POLIN to gather stories about Jews from all over the world… and that actually has a page about Markowa.
More and more museums are using theatre and tech to highlight their physical exhibits… or the lack thereof, as at the Lost Palace experience Tim Powell created with startups and comedians at the Palace of Whitehall and told us about at WAM16.
But what about making the audience a character of the play? While Tate Exchange is all about reflecting about performance by engaging visitors, ACMI (Australian Center for Moving Image) in Melbourne launches “Ghost, Toast and the Things Unsaid”, a play in which the visitors are ghosts of the characters they see. As they watch a family story unwind, they can both listen to what the characters say… and to what they think, thanks to a smartphone and earphones hidden under a ghost costume. Those thoughts bring a new, deeper level of understanding and subtext of the play and the characters’ reactions, making visitors even more emotionally involved in the performance. But they will not get all the thoughts of the characters, only those of the characters they are looking at, thanks to a high-precision gyroscope – just like any other virtual reality device, but without any screen.
For a museum, even one dedicated to the moving image, this experience is highly unusual: it is not a movie, it is not a play or a performance that you passively watch, it is not a performance that happens once and requires everyone to listen to the artist. That is what makes that experience so interesting: ACMI goes beyond conservation and showing of already created content, it serves as a production space for a complex theatre performance that includes innovative tech. And this tech creates a soundscape that is unique for each and every one visitor, actually depending of how they move.
Just picture yourself in a mix of “Entrez dans l’Atelier” (Enter the studio), an app co-created by the Musée d’Orsay which narrates Gustave Courbet’s masterpiece behind the scenes and the reconstituted Vincent Van Gogh’s bedroom courtesy of Airbnb and the Chicago Art Institute!
Launched right in time for Halloween and inspired by the interactive Sleep No More, “Ghost, Toast and the Things Unsaid” shows how museums can create unique experiences by surrounding themselves by startups. Indeed, this experience was commissioned by three partners: Google’s Creative Lab, Grumpy Sailor – a long-time partner of the Creative Lab that is experimenting with digital tech and storytelling – and Sandpit. Sandpit is a company that has been creating live events, screen media, digital content since 2012… and has been a resident of ACMI X, ACMI’s coworking space, since last July. If any museum wonders if it is worth it to keep startups close, “Ghost, Toast and the Things Unsaid” is the proof that yes, because they will make you benefit from their experience and expand your museum’s offer.
Last June during WAM16, Martha Henson taught us that anyone was all able to create a game mechanic, even if they were no game experts. Creating an efficient gameplay can be as easy as taking an existing one and changing one or two factors. That being said, it may still seem like a challenge to imagine a game that will keep players hooked and highlight your museum’s mission and collection.
But several museums have successfully achieved to strike that balance and create serious games that help them attract new audiences through smart gameplay and satisfy their existing audiences through rich content.
What ensures the success of a serious game?
Of course, your institution has to provide the content. If you are a digital project manager, it is your call to find people inside of the museum that will help you gather the right content. Curators have expertise of the content itself, audience managers have a fine knowledge of your online and offline visitors, mediators can help you with knowing what catches the visitors’ eye and what they ask questions about – and your are the one who will feed the game with transmedia ideas. Making all those people aware that they have something to bring to the table to make the serious game a really complete project that both serves the audience and highlights the content, whether it is a cause, mission or your collection.
Then, the gameplay and the tech usually needs to be conceived by experts, but this partition can be challenged. Indeed, when launching their serious game in alternate reality Vanished – a ecological quest in a science fiction universe, the Smithsonian partnered with the MIT. While the MIT is a great tech partner, it also is an institution that advances science and educates about it. Players – high schoolers from 11 to 14 – had to find different species and clues scattered around the real world (a gameplay that got an update in Pokemon Go) to understand an environmental disaster. To help them understand it, MIT students would discuss their theories and answer their questions on a forum, where players also could of course exchange with each other. Each found objects would bring the players closer to ending the quest, and of course, some of the objects were to be found in or close to the Smithsonian.
Driving the audience to the museum is both obvious and much harder than you could think. The key question you should ask yourself is: Should coming in the museum be necessary to advance in the game? Considering the serious game can reach players way beyond your local audience, it can create a frustration to make a visit to the museum a step that is required too early in the game. High Tea, a game Martha Henson introduced us too, was meant to raise awareness about the Opium Wars during an exhibition about recreational drugs in our society at the Wellcome Collection. It required no visit to the museum and gathered raving feedback from all around the world.
With a different approach, Cherche Tom Dans la Nuit (link in French), a serious game launched by We Are Museums Founder Diane Drubay for the French Ministry of Culture, offered twelve puzzles about exhibits that could be found in museums, with the twelfth puzzle requiring to visit one of the 88 museums that took part in the European Night of Museums – and a thirteenth puzzle for those who could not make it to the event. With a peak of sign-up right before the European Night of Museums and a majority of players looking for more information about the exhibits, the game can be considered a success.
One piece of feedback is especially interesting: 57% percent of the players found the level of the game perfectly appropriate, 43% of them finding it too easy or too hard. It shows that it is an impossible task to cater to every player’s needs, but that you should not consider that as an obstacle.
Actually, if you want to make sure everybody makes the most of your game, you can also give teachers and educators keys to use the game and follow the players. That is what the Musée de la Civilisation in Québec did: by creating resources for teachers (link in French), they opened a door for classes and groups to play and visit the museum together with real added value. As a matter of fact, serious games guided by teachers are as ancient as… the 18th century, and they already helped King George’s 15 children (which can be considered as a small class) with their geography lessons.
Museums are not the only ones to embrace serious games. In France, television channel have started to use them as a pedagogical way to explain the news and major issues of the current world, like Arte with Refugees.
It is exactly what the serious game launched last week by the Olympic museum in Lausanne does. Pierre de Coubertin in search of a sustainable stadium completes the exhibition Stadiums (on view until May 5th 2017) by raising kids’ awareness about ensuring the sustainability and reusability of Olympic stadiums. Following Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, children have to make the right choices to build a modern stadium that is environmentally friendly and meets the needs of the Games as well as of the local population and economy. To understand how and why this serious game was launched, here are some insights from Silvia Mosca, Senior Digital Projects Manager.
1) Who were the different players involved in the creation of the serious game inside and outside of the museum? How are they chosen?
We worked with several players inside and outside the museum, all chosen for their expertise.
Within our teams, we involved the Head of Sustainability and Olympic Legacy who supervises the content about the topic and helped us find spot on material. The Olympic Studies Centre did most of the research, fact checking our found interesting resources. The Olympic Multimedia Library also has been a great internal partner thanks to its huge collection of pictures and films, a real data base of the IOC heritage. The Digital Manager’s role was to benchmark other serious games, design a gameplay that would match our exhibition about Stadiums in the Museum, find the right pictures, films, documentation… and also to oversee the projet in terms of both schedule and validation.
Outside partners were chosen for their ability to bring something new to the table. The web agency with whom we have been working for 3 years developed and designed the website for us, supported by a director. To create the dialogues and rewrite the content to make it easily understandable, we chose to work with a journalist. We already knew all those partners, who have worked with us on two webdocumentaries – Time and Sport (2014) and LIVE! Broadcasting the Olympic Games (2015) – and The Olympic Journey website (2014).
2) How is the serious game part of a wider educational strategy around the exhibition?
The serious game allows the player to receive information while he is playing. The format helps to deliver important facts in a light tone. Produced for the web, it is complementary to the exhibition and can reach a wider target audience.
3. Are museums meant to be key players in social issues such as sustainable development? How does digital help them with this new role?
If they are not key players, museums are certainly important actors in social issues. Their expertise is to involve people without making them feel guilty.
Digital can provide new tools to explore new ways to get in touch with people and to invite them to participate.
The Olympic Museum talks about sustainability through the lens of sports and Olympics; this is an excellent trigger to raise people’s curiosity on a topic that also affects them in their everyday life.
With its scope for dematerialisation, the digital world opens up a huge range of museographical possibilities, going beyond the constraints, restrictions and environmental costs of “bricks and mortar”.
The Olympic Museum is fully engaged in exploring these possibilities, and has begun its digital transformation. Watch this space…