Blogs Media Lab Paul Schmelzer

Nine-year editor of Walker magazine (1998-2007), Paul returned to the Walker as web editor in September 2011. A freelance writer and blogger, he writes on art, media, and activism for publications including Adbusters, Artforum.com, Ode, Utne, Cabinet, Raw Vision and at his personal site, Eyeteeth. Award-winning former editor of the Minnesota Independent, his interviews with architect Cameron Sinclair, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and activist Winona La Duke appear in the book Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook (Royal Society of Arts). @iteeth

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Kim Rees

During the June 3–5 Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly […]

Peroscopic's data exploration tool on US gun violence

Peroscopic’s data exploration tool on US gun violence

During the June 3–5 Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing questions. Three, Hong Kong-based coder/designer Cédric Sam; Giorgia Lupi, founder of the Milan–based information design company Accurat; and–today–Kim Rees, took us up on the offer. The head of Information Visualization at Periscopic, a Portland-based data visualization firm, Rees says she’s particularly excited about a current project, a landmark because it’s the first time she’s used textiles to visualize data: “I’m working on a series of textile pieces that are based on custom and personal data from about 20 people I’ve met recently.”

Here’s our favorite eight responses of the many Rees answered for us:

What technological innovation is going to most dramatically alter our near future?
3D printing and nanotech. (Nanotech is so old, but has so much potential. Someday there will be a renewed interest in nanotech, and I will get self-cleaning clothes and nanobots that will keep my nails perfectly trimmed).

What global issue most excites or angers you?
Human trafficking and modern day slavery. It’s so difficult to combat and goes undetected or unaddressed. It’s very distressing to me and outrages me that it’s not causing a global, public outcry.

Which living person do you most admire?
Somaly Mam. She escaped life as a child sex slave and now works to rescue other girls. She’s an incredibly strong, inspiring, and humbling person.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?
A field fire we drove by in rural Minnesota. I was very young. It seemed like the world was on fire.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Politeness. Kindness is mandatory, but pleases and thank-yous are affectation.

What artists would you like to collaborate with?
I would love to work with Maya Lin on something. I have this dream of obtaining an aircraft carrier and turning it into a floating anachic society. I would love to have her design the landscape.

Is there anybody you’d refuse to shake hands with?
There are lots of people. We’re working on some things about gun violence. In the course of this project I’ve read a lot of stories about child murderers and sexual predators. There are many sickening stories that I will never forget. Those people — I could never shake hands with them or possibly even be in the same room with them.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
A dollar bill. I’d love to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, to see how people live, see what they value, see their exchanges.

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Giorgia Lupi

During last week’s Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing […]

"The real Montalbano," a data visualization from Accurat's La Lettura project

“The real Montalbano,” a data visualization from Accurat’s La Lettura project

During last week’s Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing questions. Two, Hong Kong-based coder and designer Cédric Sam and Giorgia Lupi, founder of the Milan–based information design company Accurat, took us up on the offer. Lupi says her company is her most exciting project at the moment. Founded two years ago, Accurat is opening a New York office, where it’ll expand its work in “imagining new ways to tell stories through data.” Our favorite eight replies to our questions:

What is your favourite inanimate object?
My pencil case (even I don’t feel it being inanimate).

If you could pose one question to every person on earth, what would it be?
What (why) do you live for?

What’s your favourite place to people-watch.
The Underground (and Twitter).

What artist turned your world upside-down?
John Cage.

If you own a pet, what characteristics do you share with it?
Getting bored of everything after a little while.

What’s your favourite recording of all time?
Synapscape‘s Act!

What have you been listening to lately?
Battles’ “Wall Street” (Gui Boratto remix)

What is your advice for young people today?
Do a lot and stop complaining about meaningless stuff. Draw, and fight for beauty.

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Cédric Sam

With the Eyeo Festival bringing an international array of coders, designers, and artists to the Walker this week, we decided to open the Media Lab blog to conference speakers. To give all presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we’ve sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing […]

With the Eyeo Festival bringing an international array of coders, designers, and artists to the Walker this week, we decided to open the Media Lab blog to conference speakers. To give all presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we’ve sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing issues. The first to take us up on our offer is Cédric Sam, a designer and coder who hails from Montréal but has lived in Hong Kong since 2009. Tomorrow morning he presents on what he’s learned about social media in China and how his experiences there might inform the work of designers, programmers, and journalists into the future.

Describe a recent dream in 15 words or less.
I was lost in an endless indoor shopping mall in Hong Kong…

What technological innovation is going to most dramatically alter our near future?
I think it‘s going to be affordable mobile broadband Internet. I lived in Hong Kong for three years and fast Internet on the go is relatively affordable and created many new use cases that we don’t yet see in North America.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
When I was in high school, we participated in an overnight quiz competition. I was so tired by 1 am that I entered and used the girl’s bathroom. And they printed it on the event’s newsletter. So here it is again. :)

Fill in the blank: What the world needs now is _________________.
More delightful data experiences. Or more experiences with delightful data.

If you could have any career, what would you choose?
Dataset tamer.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?
Playing in cornfields in suburban Montreal. They’re now occupied with houses and a Canadian Tire.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
Shepherd’s pie (aka Pâté chinois, in Quebec). And my Chinese comfort food is congee.

What is your advice for young people today?
Avoid bandwagons. Talk to people (not just at your school or in your own country) to figure out what those bandwagons are!

Secrets of a Museum Social Media Manager

Two or so years ago, Kristina Fong, the Walker’s Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator, was handed the keys of the Walker’s social media accounts and, ultimately, a new title: Digital Marketing Associate. At that point, social media at the Walker meant accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Today, the Walker has 374,000 Twitter followers, 49,000 Facebook […]

FongHands

Two or so years ago, Kristina Fong, the Walker’s Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator, was handed the keys of the Walker’s social media accounts and, ultimately, a new title: Digital Marketing Associate. At that point, social media at the Walker meant accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Today, the Walker has 374,000 Twitter followers, 49,000 Facebook likes, 13,000 Tumblr followers, 8,800 Instagram followers, and a presence on other platforms, including Pinterest and Storify.

Today, sadly, is Kristina’s last day at the Walker, as she heads on to other adventures. Hers are big shoes to fill, but Kristina has kindly laid out some must-read tips for whomever succeeds her here–or for anyone doing social media for museums or other institutions. Here are the first five tips, but please go read the rest at her blog:

1. Know your museum, know it well. This is more important than knowing how to use TweetDeck, HootSuite, Instagram, Statigram, Facebook Pages, Google Analytics, etc etc. If you don’t really, I’ll say it, love your museum, you are lost. You may not love everything about it all the time (I never fell in love with dance, or other types of programming I felt I ought to love, although I tried to understand it), but the most important thing about social media is being genuine.

2. Your social media person has to be a good writer. You’re writing every day and you have to relay your message in short, pithy statements. You have to have a voice. It’s also not a bad idea to make sure your person has written online somewhere. How does the internet talk? You should be fluent in that. Confession: I’m not a great talker, unless I’m really comfortable in a situation. Words feel more like my ally when my hands are creating them, not my mouth. Someone whose personality screams social may not be able to present that online.

3a. ‘Likes’ and followers matter (even though the opposite was probably the first thing uttered at the very first social media panel at a conference). Is it the end all be all? Of course not (especially if you’ve gotten cheap ‘likes’ by saying “If you agree with this obvious statement that everybody likes, click ‘like.’) But they matter because it’s a simple fact: you’re growing your audience. Tell me this, would you be worried if you suddenly lose 5,000 fans on Facebook? Or you just stopped at 10,000? Probably. They matter. If you’re getting likes, that’s a vote of confidence. When I post something that people really respond to, ‘likes’ go up.

3b. Caveat: If your likes go up and your engagement numbers also don’t go up (number of active comments and conversations), that’s a problem. That means you’re boring your new followers. You’ve got to grab them when they’re fresh—that means every day, since you’re getting new followers every day.

4. Talk to people. There’s a lot to strive for on social media: engagement numbers, responses, participation, qualitative data. But overall, they’re the exact same goals as our general mission statement and our website/blogs. Engage, ask questions, be a catalyst for critical thinking, connect. Be available. Build intrigue & trust—if those two things are possible simultaneously. I strive to make our audience feel like they can approach us and that in turn builds a positive relationship with us. (Think how much more you like a person you meet if they simply ask you a question, say your name, or turn to say something directly to you.) So that can be through direct conversations, yes, but also just by sharing knowledge (you get the exclusive) and giving people the opportunity to make a comment (you feel knowledgeable).

5a. Make it genuine. I know when I’m forcing a tweet. It’s burdened with edits and necessity. (Necessity = “you have to tweet about this poorly selling event or else!!!”) You also can’t be excited about everything. An institution is an entity online. We read these accounts because they’re one stream, as one being. So Walker is an entity that loves contemporary culture and thought, dance, music, visual arts, family programs, esoteric artists-in-residence, a restaurant, and a Shop, and everything related to those things. That’s a lot!

But do you tweet about all the things you love all the time? No. You may have, say, 5 things going on the week. Some of them are big, some of them aren’t. You don’t talk about each with equal excitement. In your mind, you prioritize their importance and that’s what you communicate.

Same thing with museums. Not everything deserves three exclamation marks and a post every day. (Especially those esoteric artists-in-residence.)

5b. A confession: I’m hyper-aware about the number of messages being sent out from each channel every day.  Probably too much so. People don’t mind if you post several times on Facebook in a day, as long as those posts are spread out a little bit, but I’m very sensitive about it. You have to consider the reader’s feed, not just what you want to push out. I have tried, again and again, to stress the importance of “keeping it cool” to the various departments who have their own Facebook pages/Twitter feeds, and it does not always work. You may take 8 photos back to back, but you do not Instagram them all in a row. You may have a list of events to upload to Facebook, but you do not make them all in a row because every time you do, it shows up as another post on a user’s newsfeed. You see? You have to be aware of your mark. You have to look at the world outside your world. A few studies have declared that they have found the “sweet spot” of Twitter posts: 3. Or something. I forget. They say that engagement goes down after you tweet more than 3 times. This is null and void if you’re doing it right.

5c. What is doing it right? Paying attention to Twitter, what’s trending nationally, internationally (to a certain extent, don’t talk about pop stars in scandals), and within your sphere. That’s right. Follow influencers, follow places just like you, places you want to be like, the people who are talking about you, and share their information. You know very well that your museum is not a bubble.

5d. The argument for different voices is a consistent argument. I realized I just called the Walker an “entity” up above. But I also realize that every museum is a complex organism and that we appreciate more when we understand. If by voice one means perspective, I wholeheartedly agree. People need to see beyond the “voice” of the institution. Does that mean that they need a dozen different styles of writing, humor, grammar, and abbreviation in their lone Walker feeds? No! It is that designated person’s job to draw out what they need from the different voices, assess what might work well for social media, and invite them in to talk to you (quotation marks? super easy to drop into a post) and show their hand. Some people are terrified of social media. So don’t say, “Write a post for Facebook about this”, just ask them about it. The multiple voices are for blogs, and those blogs can be shared through social. (Ask A Curator-type days not included in this. Besides, maybe curators/programmers should just have their own Twitter accounts for this kind of thing and also everything.)

Thanks, Kristina, for everything. See you online.

 

Beyond Interface: #Opencurating and the Walker’s Digital Initiatives

The new Walker Art Center website “heralds a paradigmatic shift for innovative museum websites in creating an online platform with an emphasis on publishing,” write Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna of the Barcelona-based curatorial office Latitudes, who add that the site places the Walker “at the centre of generating conversations around content from both inside […]

The new Walker Art Center website “heralds a paradigmatic shift for innovative museum websites in creating an online platform with an emphasis on publishing,” write Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna of the Barcelona-based curatorial office Latitudes, who add that the site places the Walker “at the centre of generating conversations around content from both inside and outside the Walker’s activities.” The pair discusses ideas behind the site with Robin Dowden, the Walker’s director of new media initiatives, web editor Paul Schmelzer, and Nate Solas, senior new media designer, as part of #OpenCurating, Latitudes’ new research effort investigating the ways contemporary art projects “can function beyond the traditional format of exhibition-and-catalogue in ways which might be more fully knitted into the web of information which exists in the world today.” Consisting of a moderated Twitter discussion, an event in Barcelona, and a series of 10 online interviews, #OpenCurating launches with the conversation below. As #OpenCurating content partner, the Walker will host conversations from this developing series on its homepage.

(more…)

Introducing Media Lab and the New Walker Blogs

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs and with the release of our new website back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the redesign process as an opportunity to rebrand each […]

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs and with the release of our new website back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the redesign process as an opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs. It was an interesting exercise and allowed us to assess the state of our collective blogging efforts – how each of our (now) nine blogs serves a different audience, how they all have different use characteristics by their audiences, and how they could all be focused into tighter streams of content. The blogs definitely represent the long tail side of our publishing efforts – lots of small bits of specialized content for micro-niche audiences – so maintaining a strong emphasis on the personalities behind the Walker and their specific interests was key. And the rebranding process illustrated for us that when you present people with tangible criteria to change, such as a new name, tighter description, graphic – an understandable format to inhabit – it helps them better speculate on what their blog can be.

We decided on a system of flag graphics to represent the various blogs, since each blog is really a representation of a different group of people at the Walker (in most cases the individual programming departments). It’s a tricky balance to strike between striving for traditional, recognizable flag forms and having a graphic that cleverly plays off the title, but we’re glad to have a consistent vocabulary to build on in the future, especially since the blogs now match our comparatively monochromatic main site. We’re particularly fond of the Green Room’s flag.

Beyond the simple graphic forms, this is the first truly responsively designed Walker site – resize your browser window to see things reflow to fit a variety of screen sizes. Content and interface elements of lesser importance become hidden behind links at certain screen sizes. The main content area, on the other hand, stretches to fill a large width when called for. It leads to some pretty long line lengths, but gives our older, image-heavy content the space it needs to fit. We’ll be soon applying this technique to the redesigned Walker Collections, which features a strong publishing component. With the easy adaptations to tablets and mobile devices, it’s a good fit for our eventual goal of efficient multi-channel communications.

Other, smaller items of note include the addition of a grid/list view toggle in the top left to make skimming easier, smarter ordering of categories and authors (by popularity and date of last post, respectively), and a fun little flag animation when you roll over the left-side blog names (in full-width view).

And just for kicks, here are some rejected flag sketches:

“Gamechanger”: Early reviews of the new Walker website

Launched late last week, the new Walker website is generating plenty of reactions from art bloggers, journalists and our colleagues in the museum world.

Launched late last week, the new Walker website is generating plenty of reactions from art bloggers, journalists and our colleagues in the museum world.

Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes offered a quick response last week, calling the site a “game-changer, the website that every art museum will have to consider from this point forward.” He followed that up with a more in-depth piece today that both praised the Walker (“no American art museum is more prepared to produce journalism than is the Walker”) and offered some challenges (“How probative will the Walker site be about its own institution, which dominates the presentation of contemporary art in a huge section of the country?”).

“Art museum websites typically pretend that the museum is an island unto itself,” he writes. “The new Walker website rejects that approach by presenting the Walker as both a physical and a virtual community hub — and it defines its community appropriately broadly, as both the art world and the Walker’s home state of Minnesota. With its audience thus defined, the new website promises to provide not just information about the Walker, but information about art and artists wherever they are, with an special and appropriate focus on its home region. That’s smart. Next up: We’ll see how the website delivers on that promise.”

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic writes that the site “should be a model for other institutions of all kinds.” He writes: “What I love most about what the Walker is attempting to do is that they seem to have realized that they can do more than stave off a slow spiral into irrelevance. The Internet means that the Walker can become a global art powerhouse from the comfort of the upper Midwest.”

Seb Chan, recently named director of digital and emerging media at the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, interviewed Walker staff about the technology side of the site, noting that “it represents a potential paradigm shift for institutional websites.”

Museum Nerd, the popular anonymous art-tweeter and blogger, followed up a tweet from Friday (below), with a fleshed out analysis at Artlog. Calling the site an “earth-shaking gamechanger,” Museum Nerd writes, “They’re not just positioning themselves as an arbiter of taste (the connoisseurship thing has long been in every art museum’s bailiwick): the Walker is also placing themselves at the center of the conversation that their mission is all about.”

Marianne Combs at MPR: “As a reporter, I find this shift particularly interesting, because it marks a significant step forward in an ongoing trend. Namely arts organizations, faced with a lack of media coverage, are creating their own coverage, and taking the dialogue directly to their audiences.”

Secrets of the City: “[P]retty darn cool. The new look moves the site into more of a content focused direction, but also makes it easier to see what’s happening in the galleries.”

The Getty:

Minneapolis Institute of Arts:

ICA Philadelphia:

MoMA:

The Mattress Factory:

Museumnerd:

I’ll continue to update this post as more reviews come in.

Updates

12.06.11: Nina Simon at Museum 2.0:

“Here’s what I see: a website as a unique core offering–alongside, but not subservient to, the physical institution. Walkerart.org is not about the Walker Art Center. It is the Walker Art Center, in digital form.”

 

12.08.11: The Independent (UK):

“It’s curation, but not as we (or other galleries) know it yet. It ought to help hugely the Walker’s role on the arts stage…”

Minnov8:

“To say I was impressed is an understatement: the design is fresh, exciting to view and the content compelling. The breadth and depth of coverage of art and design quickly shifted my mind toward a completely different place, one of consideration, thought and ideas instead of my typical focus on the tech ‘flipper-flappers’ and ‘eye candy’ of this new website they’d delivered.”

12.09.11: It’s Nice That (UK):

“It’s a great step forward that should be welcomed by all creative types – the writing is excellent and it looks great too with lots of interesting web design tricks producing a thing of real beauty.”

 12.20.11: Alissa Walker, GOOD:

“A vibrant and thoughtful portal for the local creative community… Museums everywhere should take note, yes, but publications should be paying attention as well.”