Moving from Virtual to Visceral: Maxwell L. Anderson's Plenary Address at Museums and the Web 2009



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Follow Museums and the Web 2009 on Twitter
In the rush to get this video published we are not publishing it with full Notes and Closed Captioning features. Those will come, don't worry (you're worrying aren't you?). In the mean time I hope you have fun following Museums and the Web on Twitter. Have fun trying to find when people were Tweeting (is the the right word?) during Max's talk.

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Images from MW2009 on Flickr

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What else is Max up to?
Read one of his letter on IMA's website.

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AAM's website
Learn more about the American Associations of Museums here.

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A good example of staff in action

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Nina Simon's blog
We like it.

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IMA's Dashboard
Check out all the stats here.

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More about this innovative reporting...
...can be found here.

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IMA's deaccession page
Here's one of the objects.

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This is ArtBabble
Have fun!

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The Indianapolis Museum of Art homepage
One stop shopping for the IMA.

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Interested in microphones?
Learn about the history here. Just one click away!

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Interested in Museums and the Web?
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Channels: Talks

The Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Maxwell L. Anderson, addresses Museums and the Web 2009 (MW2009) in Indianapolis.

From the Archives & Museum Informatics website: As social networking continues to grow, a priority for museums should be to open the experiences they offer on-site to visitors online. By prioritizing production of web-based high-definition video, real-time transparency in reporting out museum activities, and new avenues for audience participation, museums may be able to stand out in the increasingly cluttered media landscape.


After watching this video, I got really curious about following the UMA online (thanx to technology it is possible for me to visit you at such a long distance! digital museum is for that matter of great importance), and maybe I get the chance to visit it once, in a visceral way ;) Manderson, you got a new (portuguese) fan!

Maxwell Anderson’s entire speech was extremely insightful but if I have to pull out one particular topic it would be the idea of “transparency” in museums. Exposing the operations could help with funding as potential donors will respect what takes place behind the “velvet rope” and will want to be a part of it. Dr. Anderson further stated that technology does assist with “post-visit enrichment.” Knowledge simply does not end as soon as visitors exit out the front doors and technology acts as the foundation in which it will be able to continue to grow and transform.

One of the first things Max said was that we shouldn’t get caught up in the “plumbing,” that is we shouldn’t be so focused on the technology that we forget what it is there for. He goes further to say that we can’t get so caught up in the tag cloud that we forget the information that is behind it. I think this is one of the major points that we must remember. Technology is great, and the technology of the internet allows for rapid movement, development and change. The technology and the architecture of the museum doesn’t allow for all of this rapid movement. Because you are dealing with a real, physical space you have to take into account other factors. That makes the judicious application of technology so important. Technology for technology’s sake will never work. We need to focus on what we want to convey then think of the best way to convey it.

At about minute 14, Max said, "So, what I hope all of us are working towards, as we move on in building these platforms and building the baseline for information exchange is to go beyond the virtual to something which is tactile, and sensual, and allows you to think about creativity in a different way, allows you to understand how, terms of museology, what we collect is so often an act or artifact of some time ago, or recently, that has stories behind it, and telling those stories becomes a key issue, not so much reflecting them in digital format and assuming we've accomplished enough."
While I think this is valiant, and correct, I think that the day to day inner workings and the funding doesn't necessarily always allow for a museums staff to be creating these learning environments for the visitor. The real problem solving comes from museum staff who are struggling for money and are still connecting in a effective way with their constituents. And I don't think that that is something that can be generalized. It comes from hard work, creative thinking, and listening to your audience.

I thought Max’s comment that “if we get too caught up in the plumbing of technology, we forget the outcomes” was an especially important item of note. Using technology wisely can help museums better educate visitors inside and outside of the museum. Technology can also create a more effective forum in which visitors can create their own meaning. However, if we are more concerned with the technology itself and not what the visitor experience will be, we fail as a credible institution.

I found Maxwell Anderson's address to be not only insightful, but informative as well. I particularly enjoyed his comments on the importance of transparency within museums. Transparency leads to a better visitor experience because it allows insight into many parts of the museum that normally the visitor would not have access to.

Anderson is correct when he comments that visitors are interested in more than just the final product, that being the finished exhibit, but the process of putting it together as well. The IMA website allows access which enables the visitor to gain a more holistic view of their gallery exhibits.

I found Anderson's comments about the importance of transparency in museums moving forward to be the most inspiring and insightful. The IMA's dashboard and sites like gives visitors a complete look at the institution's health, which I believe is important as museums move towards the future. I'm proud to know that the museums in my community believe that being forthright to their communities, and are leading the way for the rest of the field.

Certainly a very thought provoking talk from Dr. Anderson. I feel that the most insightful commentary dealt with, in Anderson's words, "Using voyeurism" to show staff in action and make a case for museums in a time of economic privation and help visitors become more engaged with the museum. I also like how he embraces the fact that as the activities of museums increasingly occur in cyberspace, there will be many people who use the site but do not come to the physical space. What Anderson describes as the "experiential element that is a substitute for being on-site" (interviews with artists, etc) is very important in accommodating this new model of serving visitors online. Showing behind-the-scenes activity and featuring artist interviews are also very important acts of transparency and educational outreach for purveyors of contemporary art in my opinion, and those are certainly aspects of exhibition work that I have personally been working to illuminate through blogging. It is crucial to expose these elements to the public so we may "lift the veil" from the often mysterious world of contemporary art exhibitions.

I found Max's comment about "taking visitors to the movies instead of showing them the credits" to be particularly insightful. I think that this idea encompasses the initiative of not only the IMA, but of many other large institutions to really engage the public by presenting information and stories, and encouraging visitor participation that can result in "visceral" experiences. As Max points out in his speech, databases and expository information are necessary, but are insufficient. "They are just the beginning- like the credits at a movie theater." So many stories remain to be told, and so many experiences remain to be unearthed. Tapping into those stories and experiences are, what ultimately, will lead to the "visceral" visit.

I found the comments made by Max Anderson in relationship to the connection between the museum's galleries and opportunities for learning extensions to be highly relevant. A museum visit can be a very random experience - a friend takes us, we are in a new city with time to kill. A robust online presence and the level of transparency described in the lecture and practiced at IMA exposes "visitors" on a whole to new level of information to process and digest independent of curatorial process.


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