Sunday, January 26, 2014

Museum People's Tattoos

Funny small museum world.  When I saw my friend Beth Redmond-Jones' awesome Manta Ray tattoo (pictured above) on Facebook, I jokingly suggested that we start a blog called "Museum People's Tattoos."

We did it!  You can now check out the new Museum People's Tattoos blog for yourself.

As the blog intro states: "Many museum folks have a love for tattoos—their cultural significance, their artistic quality, their documentation of the natural world, and some, just for their own personal meaning. For years, we have talked about tattoos, the ones we want, the design, the stories behind them, and the artists who create them ... "

I really love reading about the tattoos and the stories behind them on the blog.  And isn't that what museums are about --- stories and stuff?

If you'd like to contribute your own tattoo images and stories to the Museum People's Tattoos blog, feel free to send me an email.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Is It Worth The Wait In Line?

Over this past year I've gone to several art exhibitions that, during the course of their runs, turned into high-profile "must see" events.  Consequently, the exhibitions developed long waiting lines, which became stories themselves, which in turn generated even longer lines, and stories and social media moaning-and-groaning about the lines.

Of course part of this might have to do with holding any public event in New York, but I think there's a bit more to it than that. How do people do the internal calculus to determine whether something is worth waiting in line for (sometimes for several hours)?

"Rain Room" was a temporary exhibition by Random International at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).  Your wait in line was for one thing only, the Rain Room.  So you either made the commitment or not.  The good news was, that once you were inside Rain Room you could stay as long as you wanted --- or as long as you dared with the anxious eyes of the next batch of visitors on you. (At least those were the rules at the beginning, more about that below.)

Although there were ways to decrease your Rain Room wait time.  One was to be rich and/or famous enough. Occasionally, you'd see some sleek people whisked inside past the waiting throngs, but it didn't happen very often.  (And also it didn't work for every rich and/or famous person: one staff member remarked that both Faye Dunaway and the Sultan of Brunei didn't make the grade on a previous day. Ouch!)

The most popular way to decrease the Rain Room wait was to become a MoMA member ---  it gave you preferential viewing times as well as shorter wait times than the general public. I'm sure MoMA's membership sales greatly increased during Rain Room!  I ended up buying a family membership, and went to see Rain Room twice: the first time with a friend (before school let out) and we waited less than 90 minutes, the second time with my family (after school let out and closer to the end of the Rain Room run) which was nearer a three hour wait.

In both cases, everyone I went with agreed it was worth the wait (even though the wait itself was not enjoyable.)  I think waiting to see an unsual site-specific event/experience (Rain Room was built in a completely new structure on the street next to MoMA) as well as a social media campaign by MoMA that encouraged photography, tweeting, and tagging inside Rain Room gave people the fortitude to put up with the long waits.  There was not quite the opportunity to say "I can come back to see this some other time."

Near the end of Rain Room's Run, perhaps due to even longer lines, perhaps due to the volume of complaints, MoMA built a little fenced-off runway inside the installation so people could walk through without really stopping or interacting at all.  But at least they could say they saw the Rain Room.  (Although that's a bit like going to a hands-on museum like the Exploratorium and walking through without touching anything!)

A slightly different type of line-waiting art experience was the Yayoi Kusama show entitled, "I Who Have Arrived In Heaven" at the David Zwirner Gallery in Manhattan.  This was a show of two different "infinity rooms" (installations using mirrors, lighting, and objects to create the illusion of infinite or expanded space) as well as galleries of Kusama's paintings.  Essentially there were no lines to see the painting galleries (and very few people inside.) There was a short wait (under an hour) to see the infinity room entitled "Love is Calling" (pictured with Kusama herself below) but nearly six hour waits to see the infinity room designed for this particular show (called Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.)

Almost every news story about the Kusama show became a story about the waiting lines.

So the question is, were people visiting the Zwirner Gallery to see all the art work by Kusama, or merely to see (and take selfies inside) the infinity room that "everyone's been waiting six hours to see?"  For myself and my friend we opted out of the super long wait, but did spend time inside the "Love is Calling"installation and also time viewing Kusama's wonderful paintings. 

Although it felt a little sad to be one of less than a dozen people inside the painting galleries, while hundreds of people waited hours outside in the cold to ultimately get only a 40 second peek inside the "The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away" piece.  It felt like the Kusama paintings were superfluous to those people, that the status of getting that 40 second peek at that "thing in the news" was more important. 

I kept thinking about people who wait hours in line at an amusement park for a roller coaster ride that lasts just a minute or two.  It seemed like the same thing.

Or was it?

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Producing Great Exhibits on a (Not So Great) Budget

Producing exhibits on a shoestring budget is a challenge, but there are definitely tips and tricks to do good stuff on the cheap.

Speaking of which, I am so happy to be able to share an article that I wrote entitled, "Producing Great Exhibits on a (Not So Great) Budget" for the latest (January/February 2014) issue of Dimensions Magazine

Dimensions is the award-winning bimonthly magazine of ASTC (The Association of Science-Technology Centers.) If you're not already a subscriber, you can check out past issues and other features such as podcasts and extended on-line articles by clicking over to the Dimensions webpages. 

If you'd like to download a PDF of my article, just head over to Free Resources section of my website.  (Please note: one of the photos in the article had an incorrect attribution.  It should have been attributed to Sean Duran.  That error has been corrected in the PDF.)  After you download the "Producing Great Exhibits on a (Not So Great) Budget" article there, check out the other free articles and resources available there, too.

Here's to a creative (and economical) start to 2014!

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Life Experience(s). An Interview with Eli Kuslansky

Eli Kuslansky is a principal of Unified Field, an interactive media and experience design company dedicated to leveraging media, art, design and technology to reveal the unseen. I was pleased that Eli was able to share some of his thoughts with ExhibiTricks readers in the interview below.

What’s your educational background?
I have a BFA from Cooper Union where I majored in photography, sculpture, installations and art history. The rest is life experience.

What got you interested in Museums?
I’ve always been fascinated by art, history, science and 19th century sailing ships. My first job was at the South Street Seaport, where I worked as a model builder, exhibit designer and curator. I also did appraisals for Sotheby’s Parke Benet and Christies.

I was then one of the restoration directors at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston, Texas. I worked in Piraeus, Greece restoring the “Elissa”, a 19th century sailing vessel, including hand carving its figurehead. Later I worked in architectural and architectural woodworking firms, in an exhibition fabrication firm, and as a designer, cabinetmaker and CAD draftsman.

For three years I was the director of technology for Ralph Appelbaum Associates where I worked on the Holocaust Museum, the Dinosaur Hall at the American Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum of Penang and many others.

Elissa, the Official Tall Ship of Texas, Galveston Historical Foundation

How does working with technology to create exhibits inform your design process? 
Part of the reason I started Unified Field with Marla Supnick is that when I was at Ralph Appelbaum, I saw the opportunity through the use of digital media and technology to enhance the visitor’s experiences. While at RAA, I developed a networked model for a 4th generation museum that laid the groundwork for legible cities.

As designers, technology allows us to connect experts' tacit knowledge and passion to visitors’ personal narratives and to rapidly try out designs and test their engineering without risk to the institution. Technology has the flexibility to address different learning styles and cognitive models. It extends the display of collections, helps creates community and cross-generational conversations. Adding the dimensions of social media and personalized content allows us to design experiences that are participatory, active and collaborative.

Tell us a little bit about how your “non-museum” skills/activities inform your museum work?
I am an artist, museum consultant, maritime curator, technologist, chef and musician. From each of these experiences I get different points of views and inspirations. As an artist I am constantly experimenting with creating provocative visual experiences. I am a fanatical reader and life long learner, always exploring a variety of sources and topics. From crewing on a 19th century sailing ship I experienced the power of team, as at sea you depend upon each other for survival. Being a chef teaches me consistency in execution, the small nuances that results in excellence, and the multi-sensual experience of food.

What are some of your favorite online resources for people interested in finding out more about the use of technology in museums?
Many of the online resources we look at are from outside the field. We continually post our inspirations and commentary on the Unified Field blog.

Here are a few of the sites I look at:



Autodesk Labs

ECSITE Open Places

European Smart Cities

Gatais Lyrique

Ideas in Food

Media Architecture

Olafur Eliasson

Science Gallery Dublin

SENSEable City Lab, MIT

Spatial Information Design Lab

The Museum of the Future

Things that Think

Visual Complexity


What advice would you have for fellow museum professionals, especially those from smaller museums, in thinking about the best ways to leverage technology in their work?
Most museums realize the potential for technology in areas such as supporting the visit, creating ways to engaging audiences and enhancing visitor’s appreciation of the content, programs and collections. Technology is also used to expand outreach programs, to build communities and strategic partnerships.

Although some museums haves concerns about technology such as keeping up with current technology, being evergreen and maintaining it, there are many proven technologies and processes for integrating media and technology into the museum experience. There are many case studies that illustrate how museums, both large and small, have addressed these concerns and reaped the attending benefits.

Without exception, we find that when media and technology design is at the beginning of concept design the end product is superior. This contemporary design process allows for complete integration of the media into the experience, and rules out unwanted surprises.

Another effective way for museums to leverage technology is to develop experiences that are ambient and transparent in ways that don’t create thematic and historical anomalies in the galleries. One way to do this is by using natural user interfaces. The rationale is that as human beings we experience our world in more expansive ways than “pictures under glass”. There is a great blog post on the topic from an ex-Apple user interface designer.

For small museums with budget restrictions, limited resources or limited internal knowledge, I recommend working with a consortium or partnerships with other museums and/or outside partners. For example, partnering with universities or corporations who support your mission. This opens the possibility for new funding, strategic and content partnerships, and for building internal knowledge and resources. Partnerships can help distribute the risks and costs while sharing audiences. The Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh has such a relationship with the Carnegie Mellon University.

What do you think is the “next frontier” for museums?
There are three major frontiers: the future audience, the evolving smart city, and new technologies for connecting people, content, knowledge and places. 

Rapid demographic, philanthropic, generational and technological changes are impacting museums. One of these changes is Generation Z, true digital natives and the future audience. According to Don Marinelli, who founded the Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center with the late Randy Pausch, Generation Z is experientially focused, has an altered perception of reality that is alternative, augmented, corporeal and virtual and sees little relevance in traditional institutions. This is a challenge as well as an opportunity for museums.

Another frontier is the evolving big data landscape. Big data has a tremendous strategic importance for museums as it can help them fulfill their most ambitious goals. Cultural institutions can use big data for improve operations, better services, visitor’s experiences and to help them establish an important role in the evolving legible city. To give you a sense of the scale this past year alone 850 million people visited cultural centers in the United States, while generating personal and institutional data. We are at a tipping point where cultural associations could create the infrastructure and channels for museums to leverage their big data and offer the experiences that visitors expect.

On the third “frontier”, there are many interesting technologies that can expand the connectedness of the museum experience. This include gesture interfaces, cloud services, image based social media, augmented reality, tagging systems, and interconnected media experiences both inside and outside the museum.  Augmented reality can expand the context of collections for visitors by connecting the physical collections with its information and interpretation according to learning style. Other technologies worth tracking are opt in tagging systems for digital way finding, data collection, and expanding beyond the museum’s walls.

Accurate gesture based technologies such as Leap Motion, real-time data visualizations, near field communication, new type of mobile appsand indoors tracking systems like iBeacon,  are helping museums be the next frontier in experience design. As Alan Kay said “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.

NextGen Science Center Model

What are some of your favorite museums or exhibitions?
Aside from the ones we worked on, there are many exhibits and museums I truly admire. Here are a just a few. The Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh is wonderful for its adventurous, quirky and brilliantly unique experiences. I especially like their Waterplay room as it is ambient, witty and offers opportunities for kids and their parents to get really wet. I also like that they are starting to experiment with embedded technologies that merge physical and virtual experiences.

The BMW Museum in Munich, Germany incorporates elegant and magical use of media that appears behind frosted surfaces with mesmerizing animated stainless steel ball sculpture.  The Alexander McQueen show at the Met was surprising, brilliantly curated and fascinating. Others include the Renzo Piano’s design for The Centre Cultural Tjibaou and the Constitution of Culture in New Caledonia. I also liked the Google's Web Lab at London's Science Museum.

Olafur Eliasson’s "The Weather Project" at the Tate and his 'Your Rainbow Panorama', a permanent elevated structure that provides a 360º view of the city of Arhus, Denmark are brilliant. I like the Tech Museum in San Jose for their forward thinking. For a classic science museum I like the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci in Milano. I also like the BIG Maritime Museum in Denmark. I could go on and on.

Can you talk a little about some of your current projects?
We have a wide range of projects from museum interactive exhibits, digital branding environments, digital way finding and tagging systems, narrowcast networks, large-scale real-time displays, websites and mobile apps. A sample of our current projects include interactive gaming visualizations for Liberty Science Center’s upcoming Beyond Rubik’s Cube exhibit; data visualization display and universal digital messaging system for the new Foster + Partnership designed Yale School of Management building; programming the interactive experiences and technology for the upcoming Franklin Institute’s Brain exhibit; multi-channel media installations on innovation and achievement for GE’s Crotonville Executive Learning Center and an interactive patient education tool for a major hospital system that will transform their doctor patient communications.

GE American Competitiveness Exhibition, Mellon Auditorium, Washington DC

If money were no object, what would your “dream” exhibit project be?
We don’t take projects we don’t believe in so in many ways we are already developing our dream projects. We would like work on a new science center model that builds the 21st century skills that we all need for a thriving economy and that makes smart use of big data, visualization, gaming, tagging systems, digital fabrication and digital media convergence labs. We would love to transform an entire city as a legible city model for the future. In the art realm we have several concepts in development for a 3D light emitting diode array art installation.

LED Installation concept  for the State Historical Society of North Dakota

How can “intelligent objects” or interfaces between physical objects and digital objects be used in museums?
At the moment museums are using “intelligent objects” as RFID tags for personalization and connecting to their websites and fiducial markers as physical interfaces on touch tables. Another technology museums are using is the Arduino boards with the Processing software language in place of computers.

There are a lot of other cool things museums can do with “intelligent objects”. There are interesting uses of transparent screens with image recognition to overlay media on views of physical objects. Wi-Fi enabled technologies like accelerometers, or transcoders can be embedded inside of an object, to create experiences that connect physical activities to virtual gauges and visualizations.

Some off the cuff ideas for children’s museums are intelligent objects that can be carried from room to room to change the environment, imagery or even lighting or air currents. They can be used to update classic exhibits by adding intelligent “blocks” and toys to water tables with different types of embedded sensors to measure water temperature, flow and wave patterns and send them through a Wi-Fi connection to real-time read out. For other museums interfaces between physical objects and digital objects can help them create programs that create stronger links to outside events.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab, Music Maker multitouch table

What might North American museums learn from the “Smart Cities” concept or the European “Places” program? 
In North America museums and science centers are attraction-base leisure-time venues that are repositories of culture and learning overlaid with educational activities. In Europe similar institutions are more embedded in the culture and community. I think in this way European museums are both ahead and behind North American museums. As pointed out in Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place, North American culture suffers from the lack of the third place, a neutral environment that is neither home nor work and a place to connect with people in community and relax. In France they have cafes, in England pubs and so on.

This is relevant because museums and science centers are experimenting with being the third good place as a community resource in addition to their traditional roles in society.  Smart Cities and the Places program allows access to these new roles for cultural centers.  Unlike the neutral journalistic approach that some American institutions take, the Places program is a three-way conversation between science, policymakers and society. Through it European institutions take on an advocacy role.

What North American museums might learn from the “Smart Cities” concept or the European “Places” program are which models to experiment with to find out what would work best for American institutions and society. This is especially true for science centers as “contemporary societies rely on science and technology for economic growth, political stability, social well-being and progress.

Whatever we think, like or dislike about big data and smart cities with their promises and threats, big data and smart cities are happening now and happening fast. This is really an exciting time as there are many opportunities for museums across the world to explore.

Thanks again to Eli Kuslansky for sharing his insights with ExhibiTricks readers!  To find out more about Eli's work, check out the Unified Field website.

Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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