A museum should aim to educate the public about art, history, culture, etc., engaging with them in creative ways to communicate their significance and relevance to the current generation. It goes without saying then, that a museum’s digital presence should support this mission. The videos, articles and other forms of online content that a museum shares with the public should have a distinct purpose – to educate and contextualize – rather than to market and induce “likes” on social media, although in today’s digital age, an institution’s social capital seems to be a key (and to some degree, false) indicator of its legitimacy.
When it comes to art museums, I expect creativity and continuous effort to push the envelope even more so than I do from history museums, for instance. Art has always been a field that praises self-expression, progress and innovation – a lively spirit that I somehow expect to see transferred on to a museum’s digital space.
That being said, I don’t think I’d want to watch an online class about the influence of Modernism on American art or the techniques of Renaissance artists. I would however, watch a class about the influence of super hero comics on the meaning of social justice or the role of social media in democratizing the medium of photography.
Clearly, creativity is one aspect that I appreciate from a museum’s digital presence. One digital storytelling piece that I truly find creative is the piece about sound and urban architecture by Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for The New York Times and pianist. In “Dear Architects: Sound Matters,” Kimmelman discusses the importance of sound as an architectural material in shaping people’s experience of buildings, contrasting the distinct “feel” of New York landmarks like the New York Public Library, High Line and Penn Station by the sound they each produce. The digital team at The New York Times makes the story an interactive one, including muted clips of the landmarks that become audible once readers hover their mouse over the clips. They are interspersed throughout the text and allow readers to immediately hear how each place that Kimmelman refers to differs from the rest.
Users can instantly feel how sound distinguishes one experience from another by hovering over the clips. Also, they are very much integrated with the text. Readers can find out for themselves what Kimmelman is saying about each place. And I find it so interesting how a short clip, shot from a fixed angle, can be so powerful in conveying a message. I don’t think a video could have achieved the same effect. Perhaps it’s the interactive aspect of the clip.