Blogs Field Guide Robin Dowden

I moved to Minneapolis in 1997 to manage a project called Integrated Arts Information Access. IAIA was a multiyear effort to digitize and integrate the collections and archives of the Walker and Minneapolis Institute of Arts. On the web, IAIA would become known as ArtsConnectEd. During my first 5 years at the Walker, I was a special projects manager, first for artsconnected.org and later mnartists.org. I became director of New Media Initiatives in 2003 after the Walker downsized the department, eliminating the curatorial component, and making our focus the website and educational technologies. Prior to coming to the Walker, I was manger of the collection information system and website at the National Gallery of Art. The Walker’s new media group is a great team, one of the best I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I think we’re doing interesting, innovative work, both online and in the building.

Developing Electronic Educational Content for Museums

In February 2010, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts convened a one-day think tank of museum education technology professionals to discuss the practice of educational content development for technology applications.  Think tank participants represented a range of experience in developing and managing both museum and community generated educational content, primarily surrounding the […]

In February 2010, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts convened a one-day think tank of museum education technology professionals to discuss the practice of educational content development for technology applications.  Think tank participants represented a range of experience in developing and managing both museum and community generated educational content, primarily surrounding the practice of art museum education.

Invited participants included:
Willamarie Moore – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Tina Olson – Portland Museum of Art
Tim Svenonious – San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Marc Mayer – Art21

Local participants included:
Sarah Schultz – Walker Art Center
Susan Rotilie – Walker Art Center
Robin Dowden – Walker Art Center
Abbie Anderson – Walker Art Center
Sheila McGuire – Minneapolis Institute of Art
Treden Wagoner – Minneapolis Institute of Art
Kris Wetterlund – Sandbox Studios
Scott Sayre – Sandbox Studios

The following is the product of those discussions.  Think tank participants invite community comment, additions and refinements to these recommendations.

OBSERVATIONS: What’s different in developing educational content to be delivered via technology?
• Creator needs to understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology
• Creator needs to understand what is possible and what is not – controlling and expanding expectations
• Creator needs to select the most appropriate technology for the problem being addressed/content being presented
• Creator needs to understand the context(s) for use by the target audience
• The [changing] role of teacher as facilitator, mediator and catalyst
• Audiences ability to utilize and engage constantly varies by generation
• Information can be conveyed in multiple layers of non-linear, digestible chunks controlled by user interaction
• Content creation for technology applications allows for learning both by a specified path or serendipitously
• Informal connections and narratives can be dynamically generated through aggregation and query
• Flexibility of content can be thought of as being infinite
• Media-based storytelling can humanize content and make it more engaging
• Captured audio/video documentation to be delivered to a wide audience as a potential learning resource
• Platforms can be varied to adjust to learning style – read-it, watch-it, listen to-it, interact with-it
• Content and technology need to be addressed/attended to simultaneously

OBSERVATIONS: What does educational content via technology do well?
• Provides models that can be customized
• Provide a platform to illuminate and connect disparate teaching practices
• Sharing process, product and revision while integrating community feedback
• Breaking down physical and geographic barriers
• Providing dynamic and malleable content, not frozen as in print – nothing is ever “done”
• Providing an opportunity to blur between the “official” and unofficial – craft vs. capture, expert vs. amateur
• Involves a range of “people” as voices, characters, collaborators, contributors, evaluators
• Captures content (people, processes and events) with unscripted spontaneity
• A single product (e.g. a Web project like ArtsConnectEd’s Artist’s Toolkit), can support the learning styles and interests of multiple audiences
• Time is less of a barrier. When content creators are empowered to publish content directly to the Web they can serve audiences faster than other publishing models (see ArtsConnectEd and MFA Educators Online). The needs of audiences can be served shortly after those needs have been identified

OBSERVATIONS: What are some of the greatest challenges in working with educational technology?
• Hard to manage massive amounts of fragmented static content
• Greater distribution vs. loss of control
• Very difficult to classify and describe many multimedia programs because there are no widely shared definitions of modes of learning
• Generates new issues related use and reuse of resources
• Opens a much greater range of legal responsibilities
• No content is ever “set in stone”  and technology is ever-changing
• Sustainability of technological platforms, resources and hardware
• Persistence – users expectations that products will live on forever
• Engaging educators in iterative, technology-based work processes
• Content and technology need to be considered simultaneously during the development process
• User expectations that content creators use state-of-the-art, intuitive methods and technologies

RECOMMENDATIONS:
• Consider new models outside of your own discipline –  successful elements of reality television, and documentary film strategies that present multiple perspectives
• Provide context for how material is designed to be used (learning, audience, timeliness)
• Exploit the dynamic nature of electronic content to update, refine, improve and expand it over time
• Strengthen bonds and relationships that are made in person
• Pursue projects in time to capitalize on a passion or interest that addresses a real need or opportunity expressed by the visitor/user.
• Involvement of multiple stakeholders in the beginning – collaboration and buy-in from target audience
• Adopt more formal, professional work practices and protocols surrounding the development and support of technology-based products
• Museum educators need to create a stronger relationship with production of critical content
• Foster awareness for the resource(s) through marketing
• Incorporate end-user training on the related program and technology into a projects implementation plan
• Cultivate a community of learners
• Develop trust and respect for users as producers – foster and invest in crowd-sourcing
• Develop a soft criteria with guidelines and models for user created content
• Provide a context for the content being delivered
• Integration of other external supporting media – beyond your own, using any other tools/media the audience may have at their disposal
• Develop standards that better describe museum generated multi-media resources
• Design content to be sustainable and commit to maintenance with the needs of the end-user in mind
• Collaborate with internal and external partners and stakeholders
• Invest in technologies your institution can support, i.e. off-the-shelf or low-tech. Think of what you develop as an ongoing program not a one-time project, and build in ongoing resources (staff, money, support) accordingly

RECOMMENDATIONS: What roles can museums play in supporting the development of educational content?
• Adopt a broader definition of what our content is, embrace a more informal voice
• Recognize and value our role as a public content provider
• Provide a system for rapidly responding to opportunities to capture media (documentation)
• Develop standards for the craft of capturing content – interview processes, content and production standards
• Develop systems and processes for facilitating production, work flow, integration and access
• Develop technical knowledge within in-house staff to guide development, even if it is performed by external contractors
• Value the importance of collecting and archiving electronic media and documentation as much as accessioned items
• Build knowledge of best practices and uses of educational technology through staff, director, and board training

List compiled by Scott Sayre. The think tank outcomes were presented at the AAM 2010 Annual Meeting.

Tour Guides Know All, Tell Some: Tales from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Three veteran Walker Art Center tour guides–Florence Brammer (13 years), Scott Winter (8 years), and Chris Kraft (6 years)–serve up some of their dazzling Garden gab, and six-year-old Maggie Kerwin shares a few insights gleaned on a recent personal quest to understand art and sculpture. What are some of your best tour gimmicks and responses […]

Three veteran Walker Art Center tour guides–Florence Brammer (13 years), Scott Winter (8 years), and Chris Kraft (6 years)–serve up some of their dazzling Garden gab, and six-year-old Maggie Kerwin shares a few insights gleaned on a recent personal quest to understand art and sculpture.

What are some of your best tour gimmicks and responses to them, especially from kids?

Scott Winter: I like to begin my spiel on Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish with a simple question: Is this fish in or out of the water? At first glance the giant fish appears to be leaping out of the shallow pool beneath it. But if you draw people’s attention to the top of the palm trees and the top of the fish, an argument can be made that the palm fronds are enormous lily pads and we, along with the fish, are all still underwater.

Chris Kraft: I often show Ellsworth Kelly’s Double Curve to young children and ask them what it looks like to them. Some answers have been straight out of Sesame Street! One said, “ It’s eleven” and another said, “ One, two.” Some adults say it reminds them of being at Stonehenge from the feeling they get when they walk between the two parts of it and look up.

Florence Brammer: I like to tell tour groups about the bird family that nested in Woodrow‘s head about three summers ago . . . a vivid, cross-species confirmation of how much the bronze horse looks like it’s made of wood.

SW: Another of my favorite tricks is to recognize the efforts of our Garden staff. Whenever someone is working out there, I make the kids shout hello on a 1-2-3 count. They think it’s fun, and it gives me the chance to explain some of the realities of the Garden–that the artworks need constant attention and care. Besides, it usually startles the crew, which I rather enjoy.

CK: When you tell young children the story of George Segal casting Walking Man from a live person, they will often ask, “ Is he still in there?”

SW: And I’m embarrassed by the number of times I find myself absentmindedly acknowledging him as though he were a real visitor.

CK: I love giving Garden tours, especially to schoolchildren on their spring field trips. They always want to climb on Mark di Suvero’s Molecule because they think it looks like a piece of playground equipment . . .

SW: I’ve chased more kids off that work than I care to count. My preferred tour with kids is themed on animals, as there are a considerable number represented throughout the Garden installations. Springtime “ animal” tours are the most risky (goose droppings notwithstanding), because on more than one occasion the entire art tour has been upstaged by actual critters near the pond under the spoon. You quickly switch from keeping kids from climbing on sculptures to becoming Ranger Rick to stop them from disturbing nesting ducklings, baby bunnies, and other young creatures. Sometimes the natural backdrop of the Garden leaps to the foreground with little advance warning.

What’s one of your most cherished Garden memories?

FB: Seeing choreographer Merce Cunningham and company grinning and waving happily to the crowds at the Garden’s 10th-anniversary party in 1998. They were riding through the grounds in the back of an open truck en route to their performance space near Spoonbridge and Cherry.

CK: One year, I took a St. Paul school group to see Nari Ward’s [temporary installation on the Sculpture Plaza in 2000] Rites-of-Way, a structure with bead curtains and pictures of the Rondo neighborhood on the ceiling. The teacher became very animated and asked if she could tell the children a story. She then started talking about the days before I-94 went through the Rondo area and pointed out some of the photos of places that were familiar to her. She told me later that their school was very near Rondo and she was glad the children had a chance to see the artwork that commemorated their lost neighborhood.

Which sculptures do people respond to most positively?

FB: Spoonbridge and Cherry, Woodrow, and Standing Glass Fish.

SW: Dan Graham’s Two-Way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth is by far one of the most popular works in the Garden (as evidenced by the path worn into the lawn around the work). The kids really dig Mark Di Suvero’s Arikidea because it swings a bit. And Deborah Butterfield’s Woodrow always manages to capture everyone’s attention.

Maggie Kerwin: It looks like the horse is made of wood. I think she used sticks to show that animals are really cool. They are part of nature. It is the same size as a horse, but not realistic. I think it would have been hard to make this sculpture. It is tall. She was probably not that tall.

CK: It’s always Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry. They are as-tounded by the size. The second favorite seems to be Gehry’s fish. They love the fact that it, too, is so large and that it is leaping out of the water.

MK: Spoonbridge is very realistic. It is enormous. We need food. Especially healthy stuff. Like fruit. The fish also is enormous. It’s easier to see it that way. You can see through the glass. It is pretty much what real fish look like. The scales are diamonds.

Do you have a favorite piece in the Garden?

FB: Brower Hatcher’s Prophecy of the Ancients–I love how it seems to transcend time, being both primitive and futuristic at the same time.

CK: I really like Charles Ginnever’s Nautilus. I have young children weave in and out of it and look up at it from underneath to see the different parts. I also like the fact that the sculptor was thinking of origami when he made it.

SW: I have two favorites: Prophecy of the Ancients, because it is strikingly beautiful and rich in its interpretive potential; and Double Curve, because the purity of its form and the monumentality of its scale leave me speechless . . . which can be awkward for a tour guide.