On Tuesday 19th of April I travelled to Indianapolis to visit the Museum of Art.
My main motivation for visiting this venue was their stong involvement in the using of digital technology to enhance the visitor experience and access to their collection. I met with their School’s Coordinator, Wendy, to discuss their Education Programs and the associated logistics. Wendy was very helpful and we found, as is often the case, that we share similar challenges in managing school groups: bookings, scheduling, group movement, unexpected arrivals, encouraging full participation in programs etc. From the Education Staff I’ve met at a range of institutions, these challenges seem quite universal. We all hope to give our school visitors the very best learning experience and look for ways to best share our expertise with teachers and students. I guess the ultimate question is: what is the best way to assist teachers to give their students the most powerful learning experience while on excursion to our museum? I have even had friends of mine, who know what I do for a job, not have any idea what sort of educational experience local institutions can offer. How do we capture these teachers?
At IMA they have decided to make the use of online and digital resources a key priority. They have a strong online presence, on sites such as YouTube and Flickr, but also they have developed a site called Art Babble. Art Babble is an online collection of their works (plus those of other institutions that join as partners), as well as behind the scenes information including lots of videos, news updates, Twitter updates etc. I haven’t explored this site fully yet, but look forward to discovering it’s potential and IMA’s plans for the future.
The Education area has many online resources including a very useful little document Educator’s Guide to IMA Digital. Wendy explained to me that this is also the topic for a professional development workshop they run for teachers, which sounds like a great idea.
As I mentioned, my main attraction to IMA was their use of such digital technology, both online and while visiting the museum itself. So after meeting with Wendy I ventured into the galleries. I used their iPod audio guide program ‘TAP’ in the feature exhibition Hard Truths – Thornton Dial. It was an easy to use program and the range of information it provided was really good. I appreciated that it gave a range of voices and perspectives, plus it presented a range of media including photos, videos and audio and covered a wide variety of topics. The IMA created TAP and have worked with other institutions as consultants and promoters of the platform – here you can read about their rationale behind TAP.
I noticed that IMA had a mobile-friendly web page and good wifi throughout the institution. This seems to be common practise throughout most large institutions I have visited, and, as a tourist, has been something I’ve come to expect.
At IMA they also had two great places that I discovered (there may well have been more, but I ran out of time to see the whole museum), where they encouraged visitor engagement, response, exploration and discovery. The first of these was Star Studio – a room for both kids and adults (although most contributions seemed to come from kids) where they could draw and reflect on the exhibition. Like many of these thought-sharing walls I’ve seen, many of the responses were irrelevant (ie. in no way connected to the exhibition), there were a few gems that made the opportunity worthwhile.
The other interactive space I visited was the Davis Lab. This was a technology based space, very different from the rest of the museum, where visitors could watch a short film about Thornton Dial, or use the touch screens to interact and find out more about the collection.
I found both of these spaces to be quite useable and engaging. Also, as a Gen Y, I appreciated them as a ‘retreat’ from traditional art viewing. I could sit down, relax, find out a bit more, and participate.