AAM Rundown 5: Media and Technology MUSE Awards

AAM's media and technology MUSE awards

Don't you just want one of these pretties?

This year was the 23rd Annual MUSE Awards, brought to you by AAM’s Media and Technology committee. You can read about all the various nominees, honorees and winners in more detail at the actual MUSE homepage, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to comment on the ones that I thought sounded the coolest.

Audio Tours & Podcasts

The Utah Museum of Natural History’s Trailhead to Utah sounded like a cool audio tour that allowed you to explore the trails around the museum, but it’s actually intended to be used within the galleries. The City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, however, does have an “Iconic Images” audio tour/podcast that’s meant to be used out on the town, in front of the actual murals. My dad leads city walk tours in San Francisco, including one about the murals of the Mission district, and I know he’d get a big kick out of the Philly tour. Hopefully he’ll be inspired to make his own audio tour!

Education and Outreach

The Minnesota Historical Society’s MNopedia project is a great idea for education — like Wikipedia, it’s a one-stop source of information, and it’s constantly growing. It also has the potential for meaningful outreach, since anyone can make comments, contact a site editor, or use the discussion forums. The only issue I can see is getting people to use MNopedia over regular Wikipedia in their web searches, though I suppose that as time goes on, MNopedia entries will appear higher in google searches. The gold winner was Project Arch-ae-o, a virtual archaeology expedition that allows students, parents and teachers to investigate the Cahokia mounds and Mississipean culture, and share their discoveries. I always wonder who uses these types of sites, and if they ever complete all the challenges.

Digital Communities

My favorite entry didn’t win gold, but unlike the others, I felt like I would actually use it. Colonial Williamsburg has a whole site called “History is Served“, with 18th century recipes for the 21st century kitchen. Pass the cheshire pork pie, please!

Games and Augmented Reality

Building Detroit” was a project I’d heard about in my masters program at JHU, and I have to say it sounds like a cool idea. You play as members from 5 generations of a family, and your choices in terms of trade help shape the city of Detroit through the years. The hardest thing about creating a game is making up rules that make sense, are simple to grasp but can lead to complex choices; this game uses the rules of economics, which basically means anyone can play. I tried playing the Guggenheim’s “Urbanology” game online, but couldn’t see how it had anything to do with art and the Guggenheim. Apparently it’s part of a traveling lab initiative to “inspire innovative ideas for urban life”, but the online game was rather opaque: you couldn’t see how your answers led to the final choice of your optimal city. For example, I’m a native San Franciscan and love many things about the Bay Area, but somehow ended up with Houston… There’s nothing quite so frustrating as a game that doesn’t really feel like a game, or like you have control over the outcome.

Interactive Kiosks

Not so much a kiosk as a full wall, the Field Museum’s “Restoring Earth” green wall (made by BlueCadet) is one of those interactives that you could spend hours exploring. I guess touchscreen walls are the next big thing, since the winning entry was the Museum of Copenhagen’s own Wall, which allows you to explore the city neighborhood by neighborhood, in the present day and back in time, while contributing your own content.

Interpretive Interactive Installations

After hearing it described, I really wanted to go see the Royal Maritime Museum’s “High Arctic: Future Visions of a Receding World” exhibition, but alas it is gone, and I don’t know if it’s traveling anywhere. The exhibition uses sculptural forms, poetry, soundscapes and visual technology to talk about the history, present and future of the arctic, and what it has meant to so many thinkers, artists and explorers. Another honoree, The University Museum Utrecht’s “Reset the Future” tinkering studio, reminded me of an in-person version of the Guggenheim’s BMW. The winner was the Taiwan’s National Palace Museum‘s “Beyond Landscape” installation, which was essentially a giant, multimedia interactive painting, “recreat[ing] a mountainous landscape [based on a 14th century work by Huang Gongwang] on a 40-meter-long canvas with animation, collage, music and interactive theater techniques.” The National Palace Museum also won gold in the multimedia installation category, for a very similar piece, which made me wonder how the AAM differentiates between interpretive/interactive and multimedia installations now that technological advances make them so similar. I suppose it all boils down to how much agency the visitor has in terms of his/her interactions with the piece in question.

Mobile Applications

The Bonnefanten museum’s “Just Add Art!” app is a) free and b) fun for anyone who likes art, photography, or creating silly/artsy photos on their iphones. The High Museum of Art’s “Artclix” app similarly allows you to share artwork with friends via your iphone or android, this time as informative postcards of the artwork. Unlike “Just Add Art!”, which can be used anywhere, Artclix is meant to be used in the museum, since you use your phone to take a photo of the artwork you like, and send it on as a picture postcard (complete with automatically added information about the work). The third honoree was an entirely different type of app: the American Revolution Interactive Timeline, which is somewhat similar to the “Scale of the Universe 2” that I posted about a while ago, except for history rather than for science, using images of actual artifacts. You can explore the website, or get the free iPad app.

Multimedia Installations

When I attended the “Narrative Techniques in Museums” session, I learned about the Minnesota Historical Society’s Vietnam Story installation from their 1968 exhibit — archival footage of the war projected on the interior of a Huey helicopter, complete with 8 oral histories of men and women involved in the combat. As I already mentioned, the National Palace Museum won gold for their multimedia installation, while the other contenders included the “Vault of the Secret Formula” (Coca Cola’s installation built in partnership with 2nd Story Studios), and the Field Museum’s rapid inventory theater (which I can’t seem to find more information about so if someone has been there and seen the installations, tell me about them!).

Online Presence

My last semester in the JHU program, I took the Internet Strategies course, and worked on a project to redesign a science museum’s website. All sorts of prizes are given to apps and games and installations (and rightly so), but at the end of the day I maintain that you have to have a solid and engaging website. With that in mind, I’m pretty happy that the Walker Art Center was recognized for it’s novel (for museums at least) approach to its site. It’s much more akin to a magazine, or online news site, than your standard museum homepage. Check it out, learn about what’s happening on the arts scene, and just explore.

Public Outreach

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s online magazine was an interesting case study of the importance of a name — they’d had difficulty conveying what their online magazine was about (and thus gain a following) until they redesigned their whole approach, including changing the name to MuseON. My favorite outreach story was MoMA’s “I Went to MoMA and…” initiative. Visitors draw or write about their experiences at MoMA on note cards, and MoMA curates the results into collections that you can view and share. It’s inherently social, and became so successful it took over the lobby, became a whole website, and was used in NYTimes ad campaigns.

Video/Film/Computer Animation

At least one friend of mine would definitely appreciate the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Vlog Project, a video series conducted in American Sign Language for deaf and hearing communities alike. The Natural History Museum of Utah’s “Native Voices” five screen program (which won this category) can’t be watched online, but the videos produced with the Paiute Tribe of Utah, The Navajo Nation, The Ute Indian Tribe, The Northwestern Band of Shoshone Indians, The Skull Valley Band of Goshute and the Confederated Tribes of Goshute Indians will likely change your perspective on Utah. If you get the chance, check it out and tell me how it is.

Honeysett and Din Student Award

Johns Hopkins students won in this category last year for their “Conversations at the Textile Museum” video podcast series, but this year’s winners have taken the baton and run far with it. Silver went to the touch-based web installation supporting the Cravens World exhibit at the UB Anderson Gallery, and gold went to an interactive touch table developed by two students for the Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan. They’ve set a high bar for the student projects in the years to come!

Jim Blackaby Ingenuity Award

This one went to the Museum of Copenhagen’s “Wall”, since the winner of this category is selected from submissions to the Muse awards (though it doesn’t necessarily have to be a winner within its category). The award was created in honor of the memory of Jim Blackaby, a former board member of the Media and Technology Committee, to “recogniz[e] a project that exemplifies the power of creative imagination in the use of media and technology—a project that has a powerful effect on its audience, and one that stands above the others in inventiveness and quality.”

Whew, that’s all folks — See y’all next year!

One Thought on “AAM Rundown 5: Media and Technology MUSE Awards

  1. Pingback: AAM Rundown 7: The Museum as Prototype | The Juli Theory

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