Three Examples of How Museums Are Adapting to Change

Any creative professional who wants to design or produce museum exhibits should pay attention to how museums are adapting to today’s socially networked, multimedia culture. For example, here are three news items that caught my eye.

Reinventing the Museum Experience in the Digital Age

Maggie Burnette Stogner, a professor in the film and media arts department at American University, is helping exhibit producers use new media technologies to create immersive storytelling experiences at cultural museums.

While many museums continue to display artifacts in cases with small text labels, others have started using high-definition videos, photomurals, 3D computer animations, and digital audio for voice, music, and soundscapes.

Immersive exhibits have enabled museum visitors to explore the pirate ship Whydah with its captain Sam Bellamy, view 3D CT scans of King Tut, and take an intimate tour of Egyptian artifacts guided by Cleopatra.

Image of Maggie Stogner filming expert for museum exhibit
American University’s Maggie Stogner films Mayan hieroglyph expert Simon Marting. Photo: Helena Swedberg

“This engagement is critical at a time when cultural museum attendance is seriously declining,” said Stogner. “Younger generations learn in very different styles than the traditional approach offered by many cultural museums. They are growing up in a media-rich, networked society, and have different expectations.”

She points out the immersive exhibits also appeal to ethnically diverse crowds
and older visitors. Compared to text labels and tour guides, integrated multimedia exhibits can provide a more effective educational experience to persons with visual or hearing impairments.

“Culture is all about our human stories,” says Stogner. “It is how we, as humans, share who we are, what we believe in, what we fear or love, what we hope for, and how we live. We have communicated our culture through multimedia storytelling from the earliest cave drawings and stories around the fire pit. Immersive media technologies are an evolving means to tell and share those stories.”

“Today’s new media technologies have tremendous potential to enliven and give meaning to ancient cultures and historical events of the past,” said Stogner. “But they must be used with a strong commitment to content research and quality.”

Press Release: Reinventing the Museum Experience in the Digital Age

Digital Images of Yale’s Cultural Collections Now Available for Free

Yale University’s new open access policy will give scholars, artists, and other individuals around the world free access to online images of millions of objects housed in Yale’s museums, archives, and libraries.

So far, more than 250,000 images that in the public domain have been made available. No license will be required for the transmission of the images and no limitations will be imposed on their use. As a result, scholars, artists, students, and citizens around the world will be able to use these collections for study, publication, teaching, and inspiration.

George Stubbs, “Zebra,” 1763, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art

Increased access to high-quality content and new linked data technologies will revolutionize the way people search and relate to cultural objects, says Meg Bellinger, director of the Yale Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure.

Press Release: Digital Images of Yale’s Vast Cultural Collections Now Available for Free

Museum Asks Visitors to Comment on Rarely Shown Works

Earlier this year the Mobile Museum of Art gave visitors a chance to review, describe, and photograph artworks for possible future use in upcoming museum publications and displays.

In an exhibit entitled “Art at Random: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” the museum curatorial staff displayed some of the 9,500 pieces that museum has accumulated through gifts or purchases since 1963. A random number generator was used to determine which of the items in storage would be put on display.

Visitors were invited to share their thoughts and feelings about the displayed pieces and make suggestions about the type and amount of information contained in the text panels.

Museum visitors were also invited to write detailed descriptions of the artworks or use their camera phones or other cameras to photograph the exhibited items. Visitors could email these images and descriptions to the museum staff or upload them to the museum’s Facebook page.

The curators at the Mobile Museum of Art is using the feedback to help them understand what type of information visitors would like to see, both in gallery exhibits and in the searchable, online database they are developing for the collected works.

In a blog post on, reporter Thomas B. Harrison quoted museum director Tommy McPherson as saying, “People have a longstanding curiosity about museums and what’s in storage. Traditionally, we only pull things out when we have an academic purpose for it.”

Thus, many of the works in the “Art at Random” exhibit had seldom been exhibited. McPherson said one of the goals of the exhibit was to help people better understand what accredited museums do for their communities. Blog Post: Art Museum Allow Visitors a Peek Into the Vault

Press Release: New Exhibition Gives Visitors a Chance to Help Museum


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