Inspired 05/17

Dress, women’s, ‘Waratah’, silk taffeta, Linda Jackson, Australia, 1983 2017, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 1 June 2017, <>

As a museum professional tasked with creating digital experiences I’m always interested in ways that the media covers various initiatives. There’s a whole genre of arts/lifestyle articles pretty much dedicated to the ongoing question of ‘how museums can demonstrate their contemporary relevance to audiences by embedding digital into their DNA’, which often segues into ‘why museum digital experiences kinda suck’ or alternatively digital is touted as the ‘saviour’ — the way to turnaround a lag in funding or attendance numbers. I loved this article from The Verge, particularly the opening paragraph:

I’m standing in the admissions line at a museum in New York when I overhear a surprising claim: “It’s like going to the dentist,” a man declares. “I’d rather go the dentist than go to a museum.”

“We can go somewhere else if you want,” his partner offers.

“No, it’s fine.” He pauses. “I strongly believe that people aren’t interested in museums. They just go because it’s a ‘must.’”

Neither argument is altogether wrong. Digital practitioners operate within a complex set of relationships and structures within the museum walls, and the experience varies greatly between institutions, ranging on a spectrum from straight up hostility towards the ‘new’ (digital as threat to lifelong authoritative practice) versus feverish embrace of the spectacle (digital is a shiny toy and we should pursue an expensive, tech-driven project asap because that other museum around the corner just did and now they’re in the NYTimes). What I can say, is that I prefer my digital projects to be audience led, and situated within the core mission (at least with clearly articulated goals as to why this project, why now, what outcomes do we expect to see?).

There are a lot of smart, tenacious and thoughtful people pushing digital forward in the sector, and this month saw the return of the Museopunks podcast, just one example of the many ways in which the broader museum community collaborates and shares knowledge. (Great to see the comeback hosted by Alliance Labs over at AAM.)

With news that significant funding cuts are on their way to esteemed bodies that support the arts and culture in the US (NEA, NEH, others), one piece of good news dropped this month from the Knight Foundation. Taking their experience in supporting innovation in Journalism & Library sectors, there’s now a new round of funding to support digital projects across 12 art museums. Click over to their article to see a list of projects to look out for in the next year or two…

Thinking about digital technology and its use in an adjacent setting — I attended a talk at Sotheby’s Auction House to learn about their pilot with ARTMYN — a non-invasive 5D scanner that captures details of an artwork that collectors really care about. Not only capable of producing finely grained images that can be rotated and explored in high resolution (ideal for giving buyers confidence in a sale), the scanner can also detect any changes between scans, making it particularly useful for determining if an artwork that has been on loan has suffered any damage, or even, if the returned artwork isn’t the original at all, but a replica. Beyond the commercial art world, I can see enormous benefits for museums to showcase their most popular/precious collection items in this way, and also for students, who can see details in the artwork that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious even when standing in front of it.

A collaboration involving a talking parrot, a high school drama class, a Punjabi TV show, the oldest song in the world, a museum artwork, and a congregation’s call to action circle through New York.

Six different venues that lie along the path of an imaginary circle through New York have become partners in a collaborative endeavor. Each month for six months an essential aspect of each venue’s identity is temporarily dislocated and moved one step around the circle, existing in and interpreted by each of the other venues in turn.

I just love the Parrot, shown here on its tour of duty with the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. (Pinkie the Cockatoo is at the Guggenheim next, where a range of public programs are being created in her honor, including a specially curated film series).

News from (my) home

The MAAS Museum relaunched their collection online this month. I started my career in museums here, when it was known as the Powerhouse Museum, at a time when making all collection objects available online was seen as a radical move. The old collection had more personalisation tools for users — to save, tag and submit feedback, but it’s never looked this beautiful.

Seeing the Sydney Opera House model,

the Black Tail Swamp Wallaby,

and vibrant bush/nature/ocean inspired fashion from Jenny Kee & Linda Jackson makes me happy.

Until next month!




Storytelling and content strategy for exhibition and experience design.

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Renae Mason

Renae Mason

Storytelling and content strategy for exhibition and experience design.

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