The Digital Museum

Overly Serious Need Not Apply: An Interview with the Ministry of Curiosity

Photo by ryanmilani via Flickr.

Photo by ryanmilani via Flickr.

Ah, your first job at a museum. It can be overwhelming, exhilarating, confusing, and rewarding. For Kristin Hussey and Terri Dendy, their first jobs at London’s Science Museum led to the blossoming of a beautiful friendship based on a mutual love of hazmat suits and an abiding interest in the quirky world of museum workers to which they now belonged. Though Kristin and Terri now work in different museums, their partnership lives on in the form of the Ministry of Curiosity, an entertaining blog—and informative resource—that shines a spotlight on the lively and innovative London museum community. Now, the Ministry ladies have stopped by Museumist to discuss perceptions of museum employees, tricks for staying on top of the London museum scene, and even the power of a pub visit.

To start things off, how did you two meet? How did you decide to start the Ministry of Curiosity?

Kristin: Terri and I met working together in the stores of the Science Museum. She was probably wearing a full hazmat suit, I was probably wheeling a trolley full of Victorian chemicals—it was love at first sight. There was a group of us that started around the same time so we all become quite close—for most of us it was our first paid museum job. You form a really strong bond with other young people struggling to get into the sector.

It was actually Terri that came up with the idea for the Ministry, or as we were first called, the Curiosity Collective. We were always so busy meeting up with our museum friends for exhibitions or events, and then heading for a drink to discuss all the crazy things our jobs involved. It seemed like there was a lack of a forum for museum people that was more about socializing and having fun. Terri had a great idea for a blog that was reviews, but from an insider’s perspective, combined with comment pieces about cake, fashion and whatever else we were interested in. I had some blogging experience and she asked me to join her as a partner! We both agreed that we wanted to do something that was fun and irreverent, basically just not what people were expecting from a museum blog.

Terri: We decided to start The Ministry of Curiosity as a resource for ourselves and our close network. We found that sites like Time Out and Londonist were not providing as much information about London’s museums as we craved. To find out about events we were trawling through each institution’s event pages, rummaging through old emails, and hopefully trying to get a spot on sold out events. So, we decided to make our own listings focusing on adult-friendly evening events and blogging about our museum-centric life.

In your Ministry Manifesto, you note that you hope to change current perceptions about those working in museums. What sort of perceptions do you think negatively influence an outsider’s view of the museum world? What ones positively influence them?

Terri: The usual negative perception that we encounter, and our favorite one to rebuff, is that all museum workers are barmy male curators. In fact, the London museum industry is really a strong workforce of young creative women, and working with museum collections no longer means that you are a curator. With larger collections, stricter rules, and long-term preservation plans, a range of roles now replace what was once the job of a curator, which leaves curators more time to research collections and publish material. Documenting, moving, and storing the collection are now the cogs of the larger museum’s machine.

Museumist: As for the barmy bit?

Terri: We can’t deny that being a bit barmy is a stereotype of museum professionals, but I think that this is really a positive perception and hopefully one that is starting to work in our favour. We are all a bit quirky and creativity is something that museums need to indulge in to encourage different ways of interpreting and accessing collections.

A barmy curator? Photo by museumpreneurs via Flickr.

A barmy curator? Photo by museumpreneurs via Flickr.

Kristin: Films are probably the biggest culprit in giving people the wrong idea about museum people. We are not all crazy old men with frizzy hair covetously stroking our objects and hiding from the public. Well, most of us aren’t anyway. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of what we do for work we aren’t aloud to talk about with the general public, which perpetuates this idea that museum staff are superior and insular. I wish we could get it out there that museum people are fun, enthusiastic and love talking about their work. My experience in the museum world has been one of openness and a desire to share, even if some things have to stay secret for security reasons.

In terms of positive influence, right now museums are enjoying an enormous change in how there are viewed as social space as a result of things like Lates. It’s so fantastic that museums are starting to be seen as places with cool events for young professionals since it starts to change the associations people have with art or history. When I introduce myself as a curator most people’s response is positive, even if they don’t necessarily understand what I do. I used to find saying ‘I work at the Science Museum’ to be a great pick-up line.

What do you think the London museum community is doing particularly well? Where is there room for improvement?

Kristin: I think what the London museum community does so well is exactly that—it’s a very strong community of people. If you go to any of the events you will often see the same people, particularly social media-keen people who have become friends. I think London’s museum staff are really supportive of each other—we do our best to try and go along to our friends’ events and promote for them. Museum people work incredibly hard for little reward, so it’s fantastic that everyone is always there for everyone else.

Terri: I think the London museum community is leading a cultural change in how museum spaces are used. By attending Lates or adult-focused lectures, we are moving away from institutions [being seen as only] child-friendly or research-based. Museums are now places where adults can drink, play, and learn in a sort of post-university Student Union. Young adults are becoming an essential target audience.

Kristin: If there is room for improvement I would say it’s in being more open about criticism. I don’t think loving museums and having something critical to say about an exhibition or an event are mutually exclusive. Perhaps it’s exactly because you know how hard someone worked on something that the community in general tends to be overly nice about things. I think well-meaning criticism can make for even better events in the future. I just wish we could have a more open dialogue about what museums are doing both right and wrong, without worrying about offending funders or seeming to be unsupportive of institutions who are doing their best in tough times.
Your blog strives to keep its finger on the pulse of the London museum scene, have any tricks for how you personally keep on top all that’s on offer?

Kristin: Probably best to let Terri answer this one—she is the events genius! Clearly Twitter is helpful and we’ve built up such a great community now that people tend to come to us with events they’d like included. We also look the normal places you might expect—Time Out, newsletters. Personally I’ve found it’s just that we are always on the look out for things that we’d like to do with our friends and we put those up.

Terri: Ha, I’m no events genius! But, I do strive to keep our finger on the pulse and regularly update the calendar of events with interesting activities across the capital. Following our blog and reading our daily updates on Twitter will probably keep you pretty involved in the community. Our calendar is not completely comprehensive, but it is one of the most focused listings for London museums that I’m aware of.  

Photo by Shemsu.Hor via Flickr.

Photo by Shemsu.Hor via Flickr.

What is your favorite space or room in a London museum, and what is the best time of day/time of year to be in that place?

Terri: There is so much to choose from but I suppose I find the Tanks and the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern the most evocative space. I love spending a late evening after a walk along the Southbank just sitting in the Turbine Hall. Its industrial history makes it a really intimidating space and I love to feel so surrounded by emptiness in one of the leading tourist destinations. I’m really looking forward to the re-opening of the Tanks, Tate 2 and the Hyundai series in the Turbine Hall next year—although I disagree with corporate sponsorship in Museums!

Kristin: The Cast Courts in the V&A and whenever they open them again! I remember one of my first ever trips to London visiting them and being so inspired I actually wrote a paper on them for my MA. There’s something so amazing about the enormous vaulted rooms full of replicas of the world’s most famous monuments. It’s what I love about the Victorians—the audacity of thinking they could just collect the entire world for themselves. Now everything is jumbled together—different periods and nationalities pushed up against each other. It feels like the garage of a great museum—the stuff they don’t want anymore. That’s not true, of course, since now there is a renewed interest in the plaster casts and replicas in museums, but certainly in the past they were unloved. The Cast Courts are closed at the moment for redevelopment, but they are reopening sometime soon, the site says Winter 2014. I’ll be back there as soon as I can! I imagine they’d be lovely and cool in the summer.

You might say that London is a museum in and of itself, where is your favorite place to go and experience the history and culture of the city that is not in a museum?

Kristin: I would definitely agree that London is a museum in itself, and sometimes it’s the walk to the exhibition or the drink after that’s more interesting from a historic perspective. For example, if we are going to an exhibition at the Museum of London I like to walk via St Paul’s, Bart’s and the Barbican, maybe stop off for a chat at one of the great pubs! Personally my favourite spot in London is Highgate Cemetery. I love to take people there and talk their ear off about industrial London, body snatching, the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries and Victorian mourning customs while strolling through the beautiful gravesites. When the weather is warmer the park is a great place to lounge in the grass and feel like you are out of the city.

Terri: A pub! Any London pub tells you so much about the social history of the city; each one chain or independent has its own story to tell, and to find it out, all you have to do is walk in, buy a drink, and have a chat. They are little pockets of social history, culture, and community situated on the corner of every street in London. Crystal Palace is another great place to go and experience the history and culture of the city. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a such a pivotal point in the history of museums and consumerism. When the Crystal Palace moved to the Sydenham Hill, it further inspired collectors like Frederick John Horniman. Standing on the spot where it once stood and seeing the remnants of something so vital to our cultural history is both sad and inspiring.  

What exhibition are you most looking forward to in 2014?

Terri: London has a lot of blockbusters coming up this year. But, I’m really looking forward to the wedding dresses exhibition at the V&A. Their fashion exhibitions can be a bit predictable, but I expect this one will be a really interesting look at the history of a cultural norm. And, hopefully, I can get some inspiration for myself!

I’m also excited to see Matisse at Tate Modern. It’s going to be interesting to have Nicholas Serota—the Director of Tate—curating an exhibition. His reputation for curating and his ability to guess the exact measurements between works precede him. It will be remarkable to finally see his vision for such a prolific artist.

Kristin: I’m excited to see the Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy. I think it’s a pretty bold move to do a blockbuster style architecture exhibition. I’ve been to architectural shows in the past and I get really easily bored with all the intricate drawings—maybe I have a short attention span! The RA is doing away with that idea completely and instead they have made a very physical exhibition. It’s great to see such a generally austere institution doing something really innovative.

Photo by peteaylward via Flickr.

Photo by peteaylward via Flickr.

In one of your recent posts, you mention that while you often visit exhibitions together, you rarely review them together. Why is this? And why did you make an exception for the Cheapside Hoard?

Kristin: I wish I could say there was some sort of really interesting reason for this, but honestly it’s because of how much work running the Ministry is. I don’t think either of us could possibly do it alone—divide and conquer is our motto. We both work full-time museum jobs and do our blogging at night or at the weekends, so it helps to share the work. We’ll usually meet up on a weekend to visit an exhibition, write and scheme.

We decided to make an exception for the Cheapside Hoard because there was just so much to say about it. When we were discussing it afterwards, our ideas were wandering pretty broadly between content and design, so we decided we would each pick one aspect to write about. It was quite fun to do actually because Terri has a background as a technician and I’m a curator so it was good to break the mould of what we normally look for in exhibitions. Plus, we thought it would be interesting to see if people can normally tell who is writing what since we don’t credit the pieces we write alone.

Terri:  The Ministry is something that we do in our spare time. Although we do spend most of our lives working in museums, reading about museums or nattering to anyone who is interested about museums, producing content can sometimes be a daunting task. We aim to at least post one article a week, and to share the load we take it in turns to write up our opinion on a current exhibition. However, the Cheapside Hoard left us with so much to say, the content and design of the show was staggering and we both felt so passionately about it that we decided to combine our thoughts into one post.

Anything else you’d like to share about the Ministry of Curiosity, working in museums, or the London museum scene? 

Kristin: There are two reasons why I am particularly proud of the Ministry. Firstly, it’s the people we have met that have made the blog so fantastic. We have lots of guest contributors who share their experiences in the sector and their talents to make the blog more diverse. Conservators, archivists, curators, and academics—we are always up for collaboration and giving people a place to have their say. As well as our contributors, we also have an amazing circle of friends like the Museums Showoff team, the Horniman crew and so many others that support us. It feels really special to be a part of.

Secondly, I feel really lucky that Terri and I are still such good friends and that we have been able to continue making the blog what we want it to be. We started the blog to be fun and I think we still manage to achieve that even as it’s become more successful and put a greater stain on our time. It would have been very easy to let the Ministry become something that’s stressful or something we felt we were expected to do. It’s amazing to have that sort of collaboration between us so we stay true to ourselves and what we want the blog to be. As we say in the Manifesto, the overly serious need not apply.

Guest Posts, The Digital Museum

Guest Post: The Perfect Game…Or Not

Photo by Ryan Somma via Flickr.

By Kellian Adams

I’ve been building location-based games for arts and culture institutions for five years now, first for SCVNGR and now for Green Door Labs and the Edventure Builder and often I’m asked the question: what would your perfect game be? My response is a standard post-modern disappointment: Every game is special in its own way. There’s no perfect game. The game depends on you! Everybody have a cupcake!

Cop-outs, I know. But, I will tell you honestly, the reason I say those disappointing, evasive things is that my perfect game would be a complete and utter flop and I pray that nobody will ever ask me to build it. It would be an epic, disastrous game.

My perfect museum game would obviously involve traveling around the world to see art, history and culture. There would have to be augmented reality, physical objects in the environment that respond to your device and, of course, internal GPS navigation. It would definitely follow a storyline with AAA art and graphics along with some costumed non-player characters and custom sculpture and clues hidden on location. There would be puzzles, lockboxes, mini-cars, hidden caverns and more cupcakes.

In short, nobody would play.

Visitors could only play this game if they had the time and money to play an epic adventure. They would have to learn how to use lots of complicated technology and as we all know, the more complicated the technology, the higher the chance that it will break.  Considering how much they would have to pay to play it in order to recoup the enormous cost of productions…players would have unrealistically high expectations about everything going perfect in this perfect game.

Photo by National Bank of Belgium via Flickr.

In fact, I think what we want to dream about isn’t really the perfect game at all. We want to dream about the perfect experience. The perfect response to a game.

“What would your perfect game experience look like? What would your users do?” Ah. Now that I can tell you without guilt. People would be working together, communicating, maybe meeting new people, feeling challenged, creative and capable, connecting with their cultural institution and internalizing the learning goals that we set forth. There would be many moments of fiero, which if you haven’t heard before, is that wonderful moment when humans have to raise their hands in the air and say “Huzzaaah!” because they’ve succeeded. We’ve seen it happen before: it happens at sports games all the time. It happens when people win something or solve a problem or when a character in a story prevails.

But, the truth is, achieving that response will be different for every single institution. You have to know yourself, know your environment, know your audience and know your resources. There is no perfect game in a bubble. The perfect game experience is one that takes its players into account.

“Murder at the Met” is a fabulous game but I do not think that it would have had the same type of success had we built the exact same game for the Boston MFA. The game is a simple web-based murder mystery. Players need to walk around the museum to discover the murderer, weapon and scene of the crime.

In the end, the user experience was just where we wanted it to be: full participation, community building, connecting to the institution. The Met’s greatest resources were their incredible educators and artists, who made a very simple game into something visually gorgeous. When it was time to play, the Met’s clever educators sent out an “invitation.” NYC teens showed up in top hats with canes, suits, corsets, netted hats, monacles!

Would Boston kids know where to get a top hat? Would they notice or care that the visual design is gorgeous? (This is Boston: the kids might worry about what programming language it was built in.) Can you get 200 Boston teens to an art museum in one night? Possibly…but I think I would design a different kind of game for kids in Boston.

For instance, the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lexington (just outside of Boston) ran the famed “Soundscapes” with Hallsey Burgund’s amazing Roundware, which you may have heard Nancy Proctor speak about. One of my all-time favorite stories is how that “Soundscapes” inadvertently created a zombie apocalypse game.

Photo by Stephen Dann via Flickr.

If you haven’t seen “Soundscapes” before, it was a sound installation where you can walk around the DeCordova Sculpture Park and hear different music from a mobile device depending on where you are. You can also record your responses and hear other people’s responses along with the music. Apparently, as one kid was listening to “Soundscapes” listening to other visitors reflect on the form and feeling of the art, he decided that he was going to write a story: zombies were chasing him around the sculpture park.

Other kids, playing with the same device at later times heard his story and thought (naturally) that this was an awesome idea. They started also recording vignettes of being chased by zombies. On one hand, you had people reflecting on this beautiful art. Then there was the subtext: a group of children who had never met each other, building a storyline around the art. It just happened to involve zombies.

The user experience was the same result as “Murder at the Met:” full participation, community building, connecting to the institution. I’m sure there are a lot of Boston-area kids who really want to go back to the DeCordova Sculpture Park. Would this have happened in NYC? Could it have happened in Florida? The resources at the DeCordova were the space of the sculpture park and a handy donation of smartphones. But even more important probably were the uber-liberal MA parents and teachers who thought that zombie stories were a perfectly valid way for children to connect with fine art. It was the perfect game for Mass, but maybe not as perfect for other communities.

My last example of a game that’s perfect for just that community would be “Ghost of a Chance” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This game required some committed participation—it wasn’t something you could complete in an hour at the museum or in 20 minutes on your phone. People built artifacts, they told stories and most importantly, they went to the museum multiple times.

The ability to allow people multiple entries to their museum for no extra cost is a serious Smithsonian asset and means they can do things that might flop in other places. Would people enjoy “Murder at the Met” or “Soundscapes” if they couldn’t complete it in one visit and had to go back (and pay admission) a second or third time? The Smithsonian used this asset to its peak advantage! Just like the Met used their top-notch artists and the DeCordova used their free and unfettered space. Did each of these places use other internal resources in their games? Absolutely, but I think these are the ones that really made their games something to remember and write about years later.

I could name a million more just in organizations that I personally work with who create simple but great game experiences for visitors just by playing to their strengths. The Joslyn Museum of Art used their connections with a local middle school to have kids build game content with “iArt for Kids by Kids”. The Quartermaster Museum in Fort Lee, VA, uses their museum games as part of soldier training. The Artlab at the Smithsonian has their teens build games to help the wayward tourists who are ALWAYS stumbling into the Artlab space. These resources were not money or talent, they were just aspects of the local communities and smart educators who knew how to best leverage these communities. The types of unique capacity and resources for each community are endless. The possibilities and ways to create that ideal experience for just your visitors are also endless.

So go forth, gamebuilders, and build the perfect experience…not the perfect game. And how to give users that perfect experience will largely depend on what you have existing right now, this moment in your own museum toolbox.


Kellian Adams is the Co-Founder and Mastermind behind Green Door Labs, a game design consulting firm based in the Boston area. In addition to working on projects like “Murder at the Met” and “ArtLab,” she also spends some time discussing games, museums, and much more over on Twitter. Find out more about Kellian at @Museumninja.

The Digital Museum

Tea Time

Screen Shot from the Wellcome Collection's High Tea game

I’ve always been a big fan of history. Therefore, back in 8th grade when my class began studying Chinese history, my teacher had no trouble catching my interest. However, a few of my classmates probably would have appreciated this little gem from the Wellcome Collection to help set the scene and bring the words in our textbook to life.

As part of last year’s exhibit, High Society, London’s Wellcome Collection produced a video game that allowed visitors to their website to dive headfirst into the lucrative and risky world of the tea and opium trade that took place in the Pearl River Delta in the years leading up to the First Opium War. The game, High Tea, is still available on the Wellcome’s website, and is about as addictive as the opium you are smuggling (fictionally, of course).

High Tea is just one of the many ways that the Wellcome Collection has succeeded in fulfilling their motto: “A Free Destination for the Incurably Curious.” The museum does an excellent job of using their website and new media to allow visitors to experience exhibitions well beyond the walls of the galleries. Other examples include the Magic in Modern London iPhone app that leads you on a treasure hunt in Edwardian London (a tie in with the Charmed Life exhibit that just closed), a Tiredness Test to coincide with an exhibit about sleeping and dreaming, and during their Heart exhibition, visitors were invited to watch a live open heart surgery and ask questions of the doctor and patient.

What other museums do you think are doing particularly noteworthy events, apps, programs, and tools to tie in with their exhibitions and collections?

News, The Digital Museum

Kids Say the Darndest Things

medieval times

Just because I haven’t been around for a while (almost two months!), doesn’t mean that there haven’t been interesting things happening in the museum world…

  • The art community finally, unanimously, agrees on something: they hate Bravo’s Work of Art.
  • James Franco continues his omnipresence. Holding his own gallery show in NYC and bringing General Hospital to L.A.’s MOCA.
  • The security system was “outfoxed” at Paris’ Musee d’Art Moderne, where theives stole five paintings worth millions, including a Picasso and a Matisse.
  • Protests over BP sponsorships have popped up at several museums: including Tate Britain.
  • Caravaggio’s bones may have been found.
  • The new owners of Polaroid donated 10,000 company artifacts to the MIT Museum. And Lady Gaga (the company’s new creative director) showed up to have her picture taken.

While all of these are cool/interesting happenings, there is one museum-related occurrence that really caught my eye. I find it so interesting, because even though it occurs outside of a museum’s walls, it is, at its heart, exactly what museums are about: visitors and their interaction with the collection. What is it? It is the new Overheard at AIC Twitter feed.

Some Art Institute of Chicago interns have gotten together to operate a Twitter account that posts random gems they overheard from museum visitors.  Some of these quotes include:

  • “The museum collects lots of interesting objects from around the world. What things do you collect.” A 6-year-old replies: “I collect money!”
  • Me: “This story took place during the Medieval time period, does anyone know about Medieval times?” 10-year-old girl: “I’ve been there!”
  • “Is this supposed to be amazing? Because this is NOT amazing.” -Boy to his mom during an AIC event.
  • “You know what artists make?” 1st grader: “Boobies!”
  • “If I could marry this museum, I would!” -2nd grader.

They have only been tweeting since June 30th, so I am interested to follow along and see how the account grows. And, between tweets, you can check out their blog for a more in-depth look at the behind-the-scenes intern experience.

What awesome things have you overheard people saying in museums?

The Digital Museum


There is something to be said for uncomplicated directions.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

1) Open Photoshop;

2) Take a famous (or otherwise) piece of art;

3) Make it AWESOME!

The call to Make Art More Awesome has been raised here. Many a brave soul has taken up the challenge, and while not all have succeeded, more than a fair few have actually triumphed in their quest.

There are more than a few American Gothic, Mona Lisa, and Last Supper remixes, and quite a few people think phallic symbols are just the thing to spruce up the Old Masters, but there are some truly inventive and entertaining ones as well.

For example, check out this modern take on a Boticelli classic…


Here’s one way to celebrate your last meal…


There’s this revisionist history gem…


Now you can paint like Rothko too…


You know who can make art most awesome? Chuck Norris…


These are just a few taken from the over 38 pages of humorous, strange, and intriguing art mash-ups submitted in the Make Art More Awesome Challenge, which means that you are bound to find at least one that tickles your fancy. But even more important than the entertainment value of this adventure, I think it is fascinating to see how multiple people can look at one work of art and envision so many different stories. It’s a testament to the importance and power of art in fostering creativity.

Oh, it also goes to show that even the Old Masters have room for improvement.

What famous work of art would you attempt to make more awesome?

The Digital Museum

Face to Face

While it is still a work in progress, Museumist is now on Facebook. We’d love it if you swung by and became a fan.

The Digital Museum

Meet Me at the BarCamp


Museum professionals love conferences. It seems like every month there are a handful of acronym-heavy conferences to attend: AAM, ASTC, ACM, MCN, etc. These gatherings, like most conferences in the world, typically share some of the following attributes:

  • A schedule of keynote speeches and panels are released a head of time.
  • Limited question time after the speeches.
  • They’re expensive.
  • Attendance tends to be limited to industry professionals.
  • Who speaks at the conference is chosen by a small group of organizers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-conference. I attended last year’s Web Wise conference in D.C., and found it entertaining, informative, and worthwhile. However, I think some new options should be considered.

Museum conferences have embraced some new ideas in recent years. With conference back channels that encourage dialogue before, during, and after the event, live feeds of panel discussions so that those unable to attend can still reap some benefit, and inviting speakers not directly involved in the museum world to diversify perspectives: the museum conference experience has been enhanced. But, I say we go one step further.

Let’s have a museum unconference, or BarCamp as it is better known.

BarCamp started as a reaction to Tim O’Reilly’s annual invitation-only, participant-driven conference: Foo Camp. BarCamp’s aim was to be the opposite of an exclusive, expensive, somewhat elitist conference. They accomplish this in the following ways:

  • If you attend, you participate. Give a talk about something you’re working on, donate food or time, get a discussion started, etc.
  • The schedule for the conference is decided the day of. There is a white board for participants to sign up.
  • The organization of the event is entirely public, conducted through a wiki.
  • There is a BarCamp backchannel to keep the conversation going.
  • It’s free.
  • You don’t have to be a member of any group or organization, no invite necessary.

Since 2005, BarCamps and related unconferences have been held in over 350 cities around the world. Participants have given talks on any number of topics, including “Storm Chasing with Social Media” at BarCamp Charleston, “Death of Advertising” at BarCamp Austin 4, and “Presentation Kung Fu” at BarCamp Nashville. Essentially anything goes.

While BarCamps’ have traditionally been technology community focused and driven, I think that they could serve the needs of the museum community just as well. Can you just imagine the line-up of sessions at a Museum BarCamp…

  • 10:30 Participation Orientation, BarCamp-Style by Nina Simon
  • 11:00 Why the Smithsonian Is Better Than You and How You Can Change That by Michael Edson
  • 11:00 Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Museum Studies Class with A Museum Studies Grad Student
  • 12:00 Getting Social with Beth Kanter
  • 12:00 Constituent Relationship Management – Yep, You Could Use Some Help with Blackbaud
  • 1:00 Using Open Source Tools to Make Your Museum More Effective on the Web with Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress
  • 1:00 Why I Chose to Adopt a Polar Bear with a Zoo Supporter
  • 2:00 Exhibit Design from a Non-Museum Employee Perspective with A Local User-Interface Designer
  • 2:00 Your Gala, Why It’s More Than Just Getting Butts in the Seats with an Event Planner
  • 3:00 Managing Millenials in Museums by An Entry-Level Employee
  • 3:00 10 Museums Not to Miss on Your Next Round The World Trip with Your Friendly Neighborhood Travel Agent
  • 3:00 What The Museum Doesn’t Show You with An Archivist
  • 4:00 We May Be Dead, But We’re Still Twitter Rockstars with @NatHistoryWhale and @SUETheTRex
  • 4:00 Ask A Curator Q&A Session

Of course, these sessions are all fictional, but they do show you all of the topics we could cover and all of the new perspectives we could embrace.

So, if your interest is piqued, let’s get the discussion going. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

The Digital Museum

Somebody’s got a case of the Mondays


Twitter. You might be addicted or simply a casual user. Even those who don’t use it have at least heard of the microblogging platform that has taken the social networking world by storm over the last year.

The idea that Twitter is merely a collection of banal naval-gazing observations in 140 characters or less – “I am sitting on the back porch” – is not unfounded. Plenty of people tweet about the most mundane aspects of their lives. Thankfully, there are those Twitter-folk who realize the true advantage of the medium.

Twitter, along with other social media platforms, is about providing value-added content. When you give people a reason to follow you – whether that is by being funny, linking to interesting articles, engaging in worthwhile conversations, etc. – you soon discover that Twitter is much more than a status update.

This isn’t a post about Twitter and its importance/impact/uselessness (fill-in whatever word you see fit). Rather this is about those museums and their fans that have combined Twitter and value-added content to make Mondays a little more enjoyable. What am I talking about? Why, Museum Fact Mondays (or in Twitter-speak #museumfactmonday) of course.

When you type #museumfactmonday into the search box on Twitter, you will be taken to a page full of fun facts about museums from around the world. Here are just a few examples:

  • MissionSJC #museumfactmonday: During filming here, a young Mary Pickford secretly wed fellow actor Owen Moore in the Mission’s Serra Chapel.
  • MuseumChildhood #museumfactmonday The plot of land the Museum was built on was bought by local gentry (in 1690) so that peasants could graze their cattle!
  • TheWomensMuseum The Women’s Museum building was built in 1910 and was used for livestock auctions, opera performances and the ballet. #museumfactmonday
  • NortonSimon Did you know ‘Madonna and Child with Book’ is the only painting by Raphael on the west coast? #museumfactmonday
  • anahuacalli Diego Rivera exchanged ideas with the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, in order to design the Anahuacalli Museum. #museumfactmonday
  • museofridakahlo The easel we keep in Frida’s studio was a gift from Nelson Rockefeller. #museumfactmonday
  • Belautel Enjoying #museumfactmonday. Have learned there are over 7 miles at the V&A. Who knew you cld combine fitness & culture!

These facts are certainly not life-altering discoveries, but they are interesting glimpses into museums, which have not always been known as the most approachable of institutions. These tweets give museums an opportunity to share their history, to bare a little bit of their souls to a public that is showing more interest than ever before in being a part of museums.

So, come Monday, pay a visit to Twitter and type #museumfactmonday into the search box or contribute a museum fact of your own. (Note: you do not need an account on Twitter to see these tweets.) The fewer tweets about the mundane and meaningless that we have to read the better. If you are going to be on social media at work, why not learn something, right?

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 Digital Museum

On Rivalry


A couple of days ago a post popped up in my feed reader from Suggested Donation. The post was about Museumist, which was thrilling because now I definitely know that there are more people reading than just my mother (Hi, Mom!). However, Donation hinted that there may be a developing rivalry between our sites. Rivalry? Never. Rivalries in my life are reserved for the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe or Rick Vaughn vs. Heywood (Major League, anyone?). So, this is my olive branch to Suggested Donation. May we work together to make the Museum Internet (whatever that is) a better place. Even if that only means organizing a pub crawl or two. Keep up the good work, we’ll be watching.

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