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Step into the Museum of the Future, Today

by david.nunes

Step into the Museum of the Future, Today

The Cleveland Museum of Art is showing how visitors will interact with galleries and museums in the upcoming world of the Internet of Everything.

Jason Deign

February 19 , 2014

Museums and art galleries are hardly the first places that spring to mind when you think of technological innovation. Unless you have been to the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), that is.

Step inside the century-old building in University Circle on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, United States, and even though some of the exhibitions on display may date from hundreds or even thousands of years ago, the experience you have is pure 21st century or beyond.

Over the last eight years, the CMA has pre-empted the advent of theInternet of Everything by investing USD$350 million in a renovation and expansion that includes putting technology at the heart of the visitor experience.

At the museum’s showcase Gallery One, for example, visitors are invited to adopt the pose of statues on show then see the likeness projected digitally next to the original. Kiosks enable art lovers to see each piece in its original environment, from a cathedral to a rainforest.

The centerpiece of Gallery One is a 40-by-5-foot interactive video wall where visitors can explore the art in the museum at the touch of a screen.

Visitors can use their iPads or iPhones (or rent an iPad for a nominal fee) to get additional information on exhibitions just by placing the device in a dock next to the piece.

Like something you see? Far from forbidding photography, at the CMA you are encouraged to take a snap so you can share it with your friends. Around 70 percent of visitors do so.

Alternatively, you can bookmark an exhibition on your iPad or iPhone, creating a personal archive that you can return to later for a more in-depth look.

If this sounds far removed from the traditional art gallery trip, then that was the intention, explains Jane Alexander, chief information officer at the CMA.

“CMA began a concerted effort to make visitors central to the reinstallation and reinterpretation of the permanent collection by evaluating visitor responses to the earliest phase of gallery reinstallations, and found that even Ph.D.s were intimidated by art museums,” she says.

“Families wanted a way to make galleries fun for their children,” she adds.

The findings were taken into account when the CMA embarked on its ‘Building for the Future’ renovation program, which increased the museum floor space by about 35 percent and was credited with being the largest cultural project in the history of Ohio.

As well as adding three new wings and an enclosed atrium to the original buildings, the project aimed to give visitors a more immersive experience, driven by technology.

One example is an interactive four-by-three micro-tile wall called Line and Shape, where you can draw a shape or squiggle with your finger on the screen and the interactive system then reveals works of art in the collection that incorporate the same lines and squiggles.

It’s a fun way for families to become visually familiar with the art they can see in the CMA’s permanent collection galleries, says Alexander.

#65 Step Into The Museum Of The Future, Today. by The Network Podcast

“The technology serves to enhance the artwork, not distract from it,” she emphasizes. “Technology showcases the art.”

To make sure this remains the case, the CMA laid down a number of ground rules for the technology it employs.

For example, while many of the effects appear cutting edge, the technologies underpinning them are structured with best practices in mind and thus less likely to fail. Similarly, Alexander’s team keeps spare parts on site so that any system can be repaired within 45 minutes.

If software fails, then devices can be rebooted remotely via an IP-based power switch. Inactive screens still show content, so visitors are never confronted with a blank display.

And kids (among others) love it. In December, a year on from the completion of the Building for the Future project, the CMA announced attendance had soared by 39 percent year on year, to the highest level for more than a decade.

That wasn’t all; the CMA also completed the first half of its fiscal year with an 80 percent increase in donations.

“The main goal of Gallery One was to build audiences, including families, youth, school groups, and occasional visitors, by providing a fun and engaging environment for visitors with all levels of knowledge about art,” Alexander says.

“It propels visitors into the primary galleries with greater enthusiasm, understanding, and excitement about the collection.”

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