CMA is world-class proving "At Museums, Computers Get Creative"

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 12/02/2004 - 10:44.

Cleveland Museum of Art CIO Len Steinbach recently presented
to the Community of Minds network on his work to leverage state of the art
information technology for extended learning and virtual community development
and in-house experiential enhancements, ranging from multi-player student games
and videoconferencing for conservation to touch screen displays in the
galleries to help teachers explain advanced concepts to students while visiting
the museum. If this doesn’t sound like our founding fathers’ CMA, it isn’t.. it
is better. Leveraging IT is essential for all great museums to
best fulfill their missions in the modern world, and the CMA’s future value and
reputation in this region and in the global community will increasingly be
evaluated for virtual effectiveness. Read more about the high tech side of
museum operations from the NYTimes, excerpted and linked below, take
satisfaction Cleveland is in the same league as the world’s best – be
supportive of CMA’s efforts to further these world-class objectives as they
expand and evolve.


At Museums, Computers Get Creative

- NY Times - Published: December 2, 2004



 Page 2 of 2
At the Powerhouse Museum, a science and design museum in Sydney,
Australia, an exhibit on the environment encourages visitors to enter data
about how often they drive a car, how often they shower and the amount of
garbage produced by their household. The computer then tells them how much of
an environmental impact their lifestyle has.

"That interactive is great for a family to do together, so they
can talk about how they could change their behavior when they got home,"
Dr. Dierking said.

And in a "voting theater" at the Museum of Tolerance in Los
Angeles, which focuses on the Holocaust and racism and prejudice in the United
States, a particular scenario is described, then everyone in the room is asked
what they would do in such a circumstance. While responses are anonymous,
visitors can see how the rest of the audience responded.

Giving a better look at an object is another reason for using

At the Smithsonian Institution's new Museum of the American Indian in
Washington, a subset of the museum's main collection is linked to interactive
touch screens. Tap on any of the objects you see, and you get close-ups. Choose
again and you are given a 360-degree image that you can move around or enlarge.

"It's a more tactile experience for the visitor than just reading
a label, and it makes them feel they've had a more intimate experience with the
object," said Jennifer Tozer, exhibit manager at the museum.

Some museums are still using computers to impart basic information, but
they are trying to do it in a way that is tailored to individual visitors. To
that end, some museums are starting to use hand-held computers.

To coincide with the Feb. 1 opening of a major exhibition of
Jacques-Louis David, the French painter, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles will
be lending hand-held computers to visitors containing information not just
about David but the entire collection.

Not only will visitors be able to walk throughout the museum with the
devices, but they will be able to go to the Getty Web site, devise their own
tour, then go to the museum and pick up a hand-held that has been customized
for them.

Kenneth Hamma, executive director for digital policy at the Getty, said
that when the museum started the technology project more than a year ago, it
was in reaction to the stationary nature of most computer-based displays.

"We saw technology get installed and the visitor had to use it
where it was," Dr. Hamma said. "So if you saw a painting by the time
you got to a kiosk you couldn't remember the name."

Dr. Hamma said that minimizing the visual and unnecessary impact of
technology was another key consideration. "Coming here is about looking at
works of art," he said. "We don't want the technology to get in the

Another ambitious computer-based project has been taking place at the
National Archives in Washington, where there are three computers hidden behind
a cluster of archival boxes in a stack area. Visitors can move a computer
screen along a horizontal track in front of the boxes. Stop in front of a box
that says Kent State, for example, and various archival files can be viewed,
including a video of students demonstrating at Kent State University in 1970
shortly before National Guard troops opened fire, killing four.

"As we began to develop this exhibit, we started to talk about how
we could get people to think beyond the rotunda walls," said Bruce
Bustard, senior curator at the National Archives. The $6.4 million interactive
exhibit opened last month, and although it is still too early to gauge its
popularity, Dr. Bustard is optimistic.

"I hope this is more than just technological bells and
whistles," Dr. Bustard said. "I hope the technology allows more
people to see more documents in more detail."

Dr. Bustard said that researchers who use the archives find it exciting
to go into an actual stack area and open a box and look through materials.
"So to a great extent we try as best we can to replicate that experience,
the thrill and sense of discovery that researchers feel when they come to our
research room."

A recent Community of Minds session focused on the great virtual
community and interactive media development being driven at the Cleveland
Museum of Art by Len

Nonetheless, many museum officials are skeptical. At the Museum of the
Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., there are now only two computer-based displays.
"Interactives can be a disaster or they can be wonderful," said Beth
Merrick, director of exhibits at the museum. She said that immersive exhibits -
like a simulated crack in the primitive Earth's surface that visitors can enter
as if they were experiencing the real thing - come first in museum evaluations,
followed by interpretive exhibits using animals or theater, and hands-on items
like lifters, where an answer is beneath a marked panel. "I personally
think that the simplest solution is the best," said Ms. Merrick.

One of the computer-based exhibits lets visitors enter information to
find the age of a rock. Although the rock dating calculator is popular, equally
engaging is a nearby exhibit, a simple set of drawers that can be opened to
reveal various strata and fossils in a rock.

"People love to touch stuff," said Ms. Merrick. "You can
slow them down and get them to engage with anything that's sensory."
Besides, she added, "computers are never good when they are broken."