Wednesday 3 November 2010

More magic from the Brooklyn Museum

One of the weird little one-day-I-might ideas that floats about in the back of my mind is putting in an application to Creative New Zealand too get funding so I can take some time off work and update/create as many articles on New Zealand artists in Wikipedia as possible. Frankly, I think it would be a better investment in the overall accessibility of information about New Zealand art than most of the publishing projects that are funded.

For a fantastic example of this in action, look at what the Brooklyn Museum has done for Seductive Subversion, an exhibition of women pop artists. As Rebecca Shaykin notes in a blog post on the Brooklyn Museum site, of the 25 artists in the show, only 14 had entries on Wikipedia, and 3 of these were 'stubs' (brief notes that form a placeholder for a full entry):

So I knew I had my work cut out for me. Over the summer and early fall I created and expanded pages for the artists who needed them most. In so doing, I learned a great deal about their lives. Who would have guessed, looking at Evelyne Axell’s psychedelic nudes, that she had learned to paint by taking private lessons with RenĂ© Magritte? Or that Rosalyn Drexler, in addition to being a Pop artist, was also an award-winning playwright and one-time Mexican wrestler? The more I learned—of Letty Eisenhauer’s rousing performances at early Happenings, Boty’s friendship with Bob Dylan, McAfee’s hilarious illustrations for National Lampoon—the happier I was to know that the biographies of these remarkable women would soon be widely available.

Not only has the Museum invested in improving worldwide access to information about the artists in the exhibition - they've brought Wikipedia back into the exhibition, using iPads. As with so much of what the Museum does, it's an experiment, as Shelley Bernstein explains:

So, what are we looking to learn from this? First, we’d like to see if visitors want this much information in an exhibition setting. The interactive uses the 25 artist articles as a starting point, but visitors have access to the entire wiki from there. Most educators and interpretation staff will say less is more and tend to favor a more guided learning experience, but that’s counter to the web. When providing a web resource in the gallery, do visitors want more control over the information they browse? Second, we’d like to see how visitors react to this type of hardware and how we’ve installed it. Does this provide a better user experience both for the people who want to use it and those who’d rather not be distracted by tech in the gallery setting? Should we be using this type of low-impact equipment in more places throughout the museum? Third, we are going to be looking at browse statistics and how they differ when people are standing near objects versus when they are sitting. Does a seating area mean visitors spend more time with the devices or do people really want to have the information near the works of art?

The thing I admire about Shelley and the Museum is that they don't sit on their laurels (which, in my sector, are acknowledged as being freaking huge). They're constantly trying new things, but that's not rare. What they do superbly, in my opinion, is evaluate their experiments and share their findings. It's a generosity of information and spirit for which I am constantly grateful.

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