The Digital Museum

Go Back to Your Home on Twitter Island


I’m sure most of you have heard of Twitter by now. You may not be on it, you may not understand it, but you’ve at least heard about the ubiquitous microblogging site.  Well, Lauri Apple and Seth Gershberg with the Chicago Art Department have heard about Twitter, and they have decided to see what it is made of by conducting a social experiment.

Twitter Island, which will be held today from 1-3 at the Chicago Art Department (1837 S. Halsted), plans to bring together 30 volunteers for a “social networking experiment and art performance piece.” Essentially the volunteers will be split into two groups: one will be given prompts by a moderator and encouraged to tweet about those prompts, while the second group will be allowed to tweet without boundaries. Will the control group rebel and tweet off-prompt? Will the tweets turn into shameless self-promotion or will the idea of community win out? Can this online social networking platform be used to create art? I spoke with Lauri and Seth to ask these questions and more.

Museumist: How did you come up with the idea to used a social media platform like Twitter for creating art?
Lauri: I’m a community manager at a Chicago-based website, and have also worked at start-ups. Social networking has become more and more a part of every job I have/do. So there’s that. Also, it doesn’t seem like many artists are exploring social networking as a subject or medium yet, so we’re taking advantage of that.

Museumist: Is Twitter Island art? Or rather, how do you view the differences between social experiments and art? Is there a difference?
Lauri: The actual event is not art per se, I don’t think. The art will come out of the results — we’ll ask people to make art based on their Twitter conversations, and we’ll also try to make art from the experience. The art can be a poem, a sketch, a painting — whatever people feel comfortable doing.
Re: Social experiments and art questions: Sure there’s a difference. Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia, and the creation of housing projects, were both decades-long social experiments, but I wouldn’t call them art.

Museumist: What do you think will happen? What is your ideal outcome? How will you judge success or failure?
Lauri:  I think/hope that some lively conversations will result, that people will think about new ways to use Twitter, and realize how they are creative (if they’re not already full-time creative types). The ideal outcome is that everyone has fun, learns more about themselves, and then feels enthusiastic about creating something more based on their experience. As for failure, I think the only way this will fail is if the server konks out or if nobody shows up.

Museumist: What can galleries and museums learn from the Twitter Island project?
Lauri: Maybe that you can use these social networking tools to get people to come to your museums and galleries and use them to get people to think about art and creativity.

Museumist: Is there an incentive structure for people in the “control group” to stay on task?
Seth: No, we want to put as little restrictions as possible so as to observe human nature.  We will have some rules, but we will not enforce them.

Museumist: Do you think that lots of rules and guidelines are good or bad for online communities?
Seth: IMHO they are very bad.  Rules curtail freedom and creativity.  I believe there is an inverse relationship between rules and revenue opportunities.  The mnore you restrict activity the more you restrict income.  Should they be allowed to self-regulate?  To some degree – online communities should police for child predators and criminal activities – in other words they should provide a safe environment.

Museumist: How have Twitter and other social media platforms affected artists?
Seth: Exposure, networking, promotion, direct contact with fans.

Museumist: Where, when, and how will the results of the project be put on display?
Seth: Results will be organized into at least two art projects that will be shown at CAD and Rooms (another gallery in Pilsen, Chicago).

Museumist: Are you on Twitter? Care to share your Twitter names?

Seth: sgchicago

The Collection

field trip

Today’s Homeschool Field Trip: The Walters Art Museum.

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just a little bit

An argument for suggested admission rates.

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How do you say “partnership” in Italian?

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it’s only a game

Escape the Museum


So Long As You Still Have Something to Learn…


Photo by Wesley Fryer; taken from Flickr Creative Commons.

Last week, Marty Knowlton passed away. This was an event that went largely unnoticed by the museum community. Who is Marty Knowlton you ask? Well, he was the co-founder of Elderhostel.

Elderhostel is a non-profit organization founded by Mr. Knowlton and David Bianco in 1975. At its most basic, it is an educational travel organization for adults age 55 and older. However, on a deeper level Elderhostel: “changed the perceptions of aging by introducing a new understanding of older adults as active, engaged learners, travelers, and explorers…and ushered in an era of active learning in retirement.” Ultimately, Knowlton was instrumental in creating an opportunity for an entire generation to mix the social with the entertaining and educational. After a lifetime of learning, Elderhostel found a way to make organized education relevant again.

So, what does this have to do with the museum world? Well, museums and cultural opportunities make up a fair portion of the educational and travel opportunities offered through Elderhostel. Here are just a few of the programs offered on the organization’s website:

  • From Legends to History: Turkey’s Legacy of Civilizations and Culture
  • Traverse Tucson: Its History, Art and Architecture
  • Treasures of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Great Art Centers in New York City
  • Music Along the Mississippi
  • The Maya and More: History and Culture of Honduras, Guatemala and Belize
  • National Treaures: Introducing Historic Philadelphia
  • Classic Tuscany and the Treasures of Florence
  • City Museum: A World of Its Own
  • Dinosaur Encounter at the LA Natural History Museum
  • Working Behind the Scenes to Preserve and Renovate a Shaker Museum
  • Inside San Francisco’s Museums

With nearly 160,000 elderly adults participating in Elderhostel programs each year – and with many of the museum-related programs receiving “most popular” ratings – museums receive a relatively unheralded bump in visitors thanks to the efforts of this organization.

However, this is about more than just bringing elderly visitors through museum doors. Elderhostel has succeeded in adding a different dimension of participation to museums. They have attempted to make the museum a more  interactive experience: where visitors’ perspectives matter just as much as the curator’s. This is done through tailoring learning experiences to the museum visitor’s/program participant’s interests; providing opportunities for discussion and a forum for expressing opinions about museum collections; and encouraging the view that museums are not only educational institutions, but also venues for socializing and entertainment.

So, Mr. Knowlton, thank you for showing that education extends beyond youth and for promoting museums as a venue for lifelong learning.


Someone Forgot to Pay the Water Bill


Judging by some of the laws on the books, I can’t say that I have complete faith in the governing abilities of Chicago’s City Council. Some of these laws include: 1) It’s illegal to protest naked unless you are under 17 years of age, 2) Eating at a place that is on fire is – you guessed it – illegal, and 3) fishing while riding on a giraffe is also a no-no (would love to know the story behind that one). Needless to say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and the City Council has found theirs.

Last week, I was one of several bloggers who wrote about the proposed admissions hike at the Art Institute of Chicago. Apparently the City Council agrees that this sudden and significant leap in entry fees is more than a little unwarranted. In response to the AIC’s actions, Alderman Ed Burke of the fighting 14th and Ald. Ginger Rugai(19th) have proposed an interesting condition:   any museum that charges city residents more than $10 for admission “shall be ineligible for any public subsidy.” According to the Chicago Sun-Times:  “For decades, churches, museums, hospitals and other non-profits have received free water from the city. They also get free building permits and waivers of license and inspection fees.” Essentially, if a museum charges Chicagoans – whose tax dollars provided the Art Institute with a $6.6 million Park District subsidy last year – more than $10 to peruse their cultural offerings, then the water gets shut off.

On the whole this seems like a rather reasonable compromise. Here’s why:

  • If residents of the city are already contributing millions of dollars to the museum through tax dollars, it only seems fair that the financial burdens of a museum should not fall squarely on their shoulders.
  • Museums should reward their core audience, which frequently consists of the residents of the city or town that the museum calls home, and a reduced city resident admission price is a logical and easy way to provide loyal visitors with a benefit.
  • The Art Institute is a public institution and thereby a participant in an unspoken give-and-take with Chicago and its residents. For example,  the city will provide free water to a museum that offers a significant cultural outlet for residents. Or, a museum will receive Park District subsidies if it provide x number of free days each year. Or, the city will waive certain fees and permit requirements if a museum serves as a beacon in the city’s tourism appeal. Essentially, by introducing such an extreme hike in admissions fees, the Art Institute has violated that unspoken agreement.
  • This proposition introduces some accountability into the decision-making process of museums. This is not to say that every decision a museum makes should be approved by the city council/governing body, nothing would get done. However, museums need to know that when they make a decision that drastically impacts the residents and visitors who make the institution relevant that they will have to answer to someone. A museum holds items in a public trust. What good is that if the public can’t afford to come see, appreciate, and learn from those items?

One question I have to raise is how did Ald. Burke and Rugai come to the $10 mark? I would be interested to know why $10 is any less arbitrary than the $18 set by the Art Institute? Without any details to flesh out either number, I will have to take comfort in Burke’s statement that he’s willing to compromise with the museum (now there is the City Council I remember).

So, the City Council just might be in the right on this one. My advice to the Art Institute would be to reconsider raising their admission prices. Then again, maybe the museum could charge their visitors another $2 to use the port-a-potties they brought in when the water was shut off.

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$1 = $20

Is it really surprising that visitors don’t want to pay $20?

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without inward

From Within Outward? I guess that is one way to name the Guggenheim Frank Lloyd Wright show.

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shut the door

Two D.C. art galleries closing.

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