What promise do we make to visitors?

AAM2016’s theme was heavy – “Power, influence and responsibility” – and widely interpreted.  Among two of the most notable talks were Kaywin Feldman’s elegant polemic on being “too young and too female” for a directorship position (her presentation was literally met by audience cheers) and David Rubenstein ’s affirmation that he puts historic documents he owns on view for the American public to see. But short of wielding power and influence at their levels, the rest of us also have a responsibility to museum visitors.

While my presentation about a selfie app (made in partnership between the Milwaukee Art Museum and Antenna) may seem more fun than serious, there is an element of gravitas when we empower our visitors to be content creators.  The museum has the power to focus visitor’s attention of specific works of art and their stories – in this case, the portrait miniatures whose identities have been lost to time.  Our influence emboldens present day visitors to become active participants in and have visual “conversations” with the museum, by making selfies.  And it’s our responsibility to create the tools that enable this to be possible.  I’ve related these ideas and the selfie generation app to Clay Shirky’s concept of the “Plausible Promise” which explains that participation comes when there are specific goals, tools to achieve those goals and opportunities for sharing and success.  In my opinion, the responsibility that we collectively make to every visitor (in the gallery and online) should be that they will learn and experience something extraordinary and that we will provide the tools to do that – be it an app, an activity, or the ability to see the world’s greatest treasures.

This presentation was accompanied by me explaining each slide and providing a narrative to tie it all together.  So if you want to know more, reply in the comments or give me a shout on Twitter.

And finally, a big thanks to my fellow panelists who presented their academic take on selfie culture (Jeff Bowen of University of Houston-Clear Lake Art Gallery), a case study on a pointillism selfie photo booth (Brooke Rosenblatt of Phillips Collection and the Freer|Sackler), and a case study on the Dali selfie kiosk (Kathy Greif of The Dalí Museum).

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Matchmaking MetGala with the Online Collections

I was passively following E!RedCarpet‘s broadcast of the Met Gala for Manus x Machina, until Kim Kardashian appeared on screen.  While she embodied the futuristic theme, the bust of her dress looked suspiciously like the silver seashells at the museum.  I quickly googled them.  Soon, I was live tweeting the Red Carpet.  Kim, Katy, and Zendaya were undoubtably dressed as the Met’s collection.

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Some were harder to match than others and I started spending more time looking through the online collections.  What was the most unique characteristic of the celebrity outfit? What searchable term should be entered into the collection’s database? Would the metadata yield a viable comparison?

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Some comparisons were obvious (Alicia Vikander/French Costume Armor), while other comparisons were a total surprise, yet near perfect nonetheless (Kate Bosworth/Turkish Shield).  Digging through the fashion collection for a Kendall equivalent yielded nothing, until I switched to American Modernism (Georgia O’Keeffe).

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As I was dashing virtually across the grand stairwell of the Met, though the Greek and Roman Halls and into the period rooms, following link after link, I made discoveries in the collection.  Did you know they have a collection of tassels? Or snake skin hats?

My best find was, of course, for Beyonce.  Our “Queen Bey” has truly embodied a piece of Serves porcelain.  The color matches well and her arms are the elephant trunks.  It is undeniable.

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This pursuit was a ton of fun.  I crossed the world of art in a few short hours drawing inspiration from various geographies, jumping through time and space.  Museum staff may not know when our online collections will be of use, nor how the public will draw upon them.  But it happens – serendipitously.

So a big thanks to the Met website for enabling an evening of educational fun, and another big thanks to some important retweets from a Met Curator (James Doyle), the American Alliance of Museums, and even an art critic (Lee Rosenbaum).

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Your move Anna.