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Extending the Exhibition Experience: Thoughts on “Technology and Community Engagement by Julie Burgess, Curatorial Assistant, Grand Rapids Art Museum

Posted By Julie Burgess, Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In reading through last year’s blog postings in an attempt to discover what the readers of this blog are interested in, I noticed that several writers commented on Paola Antonelli’s comparison of geishas and curators in the keynote address. As Sarah Schultz quoted in her post, Antonelli said, "Curators are like geishas, well-trained in ancient instruments yet dependent on institutions and donors.” Be that as it may, my favorite session at this year’s meeting, the panel on technology and community engagement, proved that curators must now also be trained in the modern instruments of technology.


Karleen Gardner explained how her museum has incorporated technology-based exercises that focus on the museum experience from the visitors’ perspective, and the findings have helped them better understand their audience. Jennifer Scanlan gave us a taste of the audio guides produced for the permanent collection by the impressive group of high school students in the ArtsLife Summer Internship program, which allowed the museum to affordably add to the audio material available in the galleries and on their website. Karen Kramer Russell showed us how technology can enhance an exhibition by incorporating visitor feedback and reflections on the art directly into the exhibition space, a lively though somewhat labor-intensive element that significantly added to the exhibition experience.


Most interesting to me, however, was Graham C. Boettcher’s thorough explanation of his museum’s journey to create an iPad app for their exhibition "The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection.” I found the step-by-step discussion of how to bring the app to life, from the initial decision process of deciding the best platform to how to app would be used in the gallery experience, to be a refreshingly structured look at a new forum for audience engagement. Boettcher’s excitement about the project was contagious, especially when discussing the advantages of such an app: magnification of the works of art, the ability to have different viewing options for each object, the extension of the audience-base for the exhibition to include people who haven’t physically visited, and, of course, to allow the exhibition to have life beyond the dates of the exhibition.


While the traditional role of the curator is still alive and well, as evidenced by the great discussions in the meeting’s other panels about various projects, exhibitions, and challenges in the museum world, the discussion of the new technology-based roles of the curator was inspiring.

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