How can technology reinvent and deepen the museum experience? New York’s 92Y recently convened a panel of forward-thinking museum pros to tackle the question, and we sent writer Nancy Lazarus to report back on what the future of museums may look–and sound and feel–like.
A visitor gets in touch with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s “Collection Wall,” a 40-foot, interactive, microtile wall featuring over 3,500 works of art from the permanent collection.
King Tut may finally have met his match: interactive technology. “Digital technology is as much a game-changer now for museums as blockbuster shows” were in the late 1970s, said Cara McCarty, curatorial director of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The Metropolitan Museum’s 1976 Tutankhamen exhibit was a pioneer of the blockbuster, and now many of the Met’s ancient treasures are also viewable on interactive touchscreens.
McCarty moderated a recent 92Y panel about technology trends and the future of museums. When she said, “Technology is hitting us all like a tidal wave,” she wasn’t lamenting, but referring to the overwhelming options. The panelists agreed, including Mark Robbins, director of the International Center of Photography. “Nineteenth-century museums were comprised of a privileged set of objects,” he said. “Now museums offer more immersive experiences without walls.”
“Technology is a tool shaping museums’ future,” added Seb Chan, Cooper-Hewitt’s director of digital and emerging media. Interactive options enrich visitors’ experience, especially for storytelling. Chan described the mobile app at Australia’s Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. It senses where gallery visitors are and delivers custom content, thereby eliminating wall labels. London’s Tate Museum has a similar app, the Magic Tate Ball, which promises, “It’s like having the Tate in your pocket.”
Another proponent of technology’s narrative power is Jake Barton, founder of Local Projects, a firm that designs media installations for museums. One client is New York’s 9/11 Memorial Museum, slated to open next year. He previewed an exhibit where visitors will use interactive maps to pinpoint their locations when they learned of the 9/11 news. Then they record messages about that moment, and their voices will play in the background as visitors view the exhibit.