Brad Larson (that's him on the left, above, with his Neanderthal "alter ego" from his installation with Chedd-Angier-Lewis at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History...) has been developing technology installations for family audiences in exhibits for over 20 years, first at Boston Children’s Museum and then on his own. You can read his blog, Museum Techmuse, or follow him on Twitter.
What’s your educational background?
Things turned around for me the summer of my junior year when I got a job with Atari computers working as a computer instructor at a Club Med resort in the Dominican Republic -- yes, that was my introduction to the working life. But it also got me thinking that computers could be integrated into some pretty novel environments in interesting ways. After taking time off for travels, I went back to school and got an EdM focusing on interactive technologies from Harvard Graduate School of Education. I was able to cross register for classes and do an internship at the MIT Media Lab…and that swept me into Boston Children’s Museum.
And when I was pondering what I might do with my life while still at St. Olaf in Minnesota, I drew a diagram with three intersecting circles: “technology”, “human development”, and “intercultural learning”. I created a questionnaire out of this and kept giving it to people whose work I admired. (I highly recommend this). Curiously, no one ever suggested “museums”, but it opened me to thinking about a wide range of careers.
When I saw the job posting for someone to be a “Technology Developer” at Boston Children’s Museum in 1988 at a time when this was still a very new field, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. There was no doubt. I didn’t apply for any other jobs. I just knew that had to be it, and that was the start of a decade for me at the Museum.
What advice would you have for fellow museum professionals, especially those from smaller museums, in bringing “appropriate technologies” into their exhibitions? Social media really is the best “bang for the buck” out there. Invest in staff who are comfortable with it, make it part of someone’s job to create and update a Twitter feed. You can consolidate your social media efforts – for example I pull my twitter feed into my status updates in Facebook (there’s a Twitter app in Facebook that allows you to do this). Then you have a couple social media access points for one effort. If someone has time to maintain a blog, great, but it should be based on someone’s genuine passion and interest and updated at least once a week or so.
One example I’ve seen in the Web world is MOMA’s “MeetMe” project, using their collections as a platform for serving people with Alzheimer’s disease. In that way, the “next frontier” is thinking creatively about new connections to needs within local communities.
So you’re writing a book -- what’s that about?
I’m writing a book on uses of technologies in museums from a “visitor-centered” perspective. Over the years I’ve worked with a variety of museums, including children’s museums, science museums, history and art museums, and I see them all angling toward a more visitor-centered approach to exhibits, each with their own take on it. My goal is to pull together a wide variety of examples and draw out some of the “best practices” in the field. (I also intend to make this a participatory process, testing out themes and getting feedback on my blog, so, please, check it out and contribute!)
Thanks again to Brad for offering his insights to ExhibiTricks readers! You can find out more about his work by visiting the Brad Larson Media website.
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