Monday, December 22, 2014

State of the Art: the App

Along with the rest of the Museum departments, the Digital Media team has been hard at work to create interactives for the State of the Art exhibition.  One project we created was the State of the Art mobile app.  The app is available for free on Apple and Android platforms.

I’ve been asked a few times why we decided to have a separate app for the exhibition (rather than just a temporary exhibition tour in the Crystal Bridges App) and why a guest should consider installing it on their own device.  There are both technical and experiential reasons.  On the technical side, mobile apps are at their best when they have a focused function.  The CB Museum app functions well because it is primarily an audio guide for the Museum’s entire permanent collection.  We wanted to offer a similar all-encompassing and in-depth mobile experience for this special exhibition.

So what are some of the highlight features in the State of the Art app?

View On Map icon
We’ve included more than just the works that have tour “stops.”  That’s right, all 227 works in the exhibition and all 102 artists are included in the app.  We’ve also included all the extended labels from the gallery as well as a few curatorial stops.  And we’ll be adding more tour content throughout the run of the exhibition.  If you’re having trouble finding the location of an artwork between the two galleries, then you can use the View on Map function, found on the artwork pages, to see the location of any artwork.

We’ve upgraded the way you can search, which is located in the upper right corner.  Not only can you search by the tour code that you find in on the object label in the gallery, but now, as you learn the names of your favorite artists and works, you can search directly by that information.

Favorite option
One fun feature we’ve included in this app is the option to “favorite” artists and artworks. Once something is selected as a favorite, it is included in a special list that can be accessed from the main menu.  This essentially lets you create your own custom tour of the exhibition.

Share your favorite artists on social media.
Another fun feature is being able to share an artist you like through social media.  We’ve integrated with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.  So start letting your friends know about these wonderful artists.
Media Extras
Finally, there is the Media Extras section.  Here you will find all of the extra content that the Museum is creating in connection to the exhibition.  This includes all our State of the Art-related blog posts as well as the recordings from all of the State of the Art lectures, art talks, the Summit, and other programs as they happen. New content will be listed here for quick reference in order for you to stream and enjoy it again and again. Yes, even the recent State of the Art Symposium will soon be included in that section of the app.

Hopefully this little overview helps you understand our decision to make a special mobile app for such a special exhibition as State of the Art. We hope you will consider installing it on your mobile device and enjoy.

Also published on the Crystal Bridges Museum Blog.

Monday, June 23, 2014

BYOD: We promise we won’t tell you to put it away

Crystal Bridges knows that the majority of our guests come to the Museum with some kind of mobile device, and we are working hard to offer experiences to those that would like to use their own devices at the Museum.

Although cell service has always been tricky in the building—remember while you are at the museum, you are in a ravine with three-foot-thick concrete walls—we continue to work with the major cell carriers to strengthen our signals, and have achieved some great improvements. However, depending on the carrier, some guests may still experience low signal strength. We would like to remind you that since opening, we have offered a free Wi-Fi network for our guests called “CBMAA Guest,” and there’s no password needed to join.

Six things to consider when using your mobile device:
1. The new mobile version of our website can help you find directions to the Museum and plan your visit. There are even menus to help you decide what you want at Eleven for lunch or dinner.

2. You can download recordings of some of the art talks or lectures that you may have missed and listen to them in front of the artworks they reference. These recordings are available in iTunes U for free. Apple users can get them through the iTunes U app, while other users can get them through the iTunes software, download them on to their computer, and then install them on your mobile device. You can search for “Crystal Bridges” or use this direct link.

3. When you arrive at the Museum, you may want to consider turning off your cellular data to help save battery life. Otherwise devices are prone to continually try to connect, which depletes your battery.

4. Use instant messaging apps to communicate with others in your group while at the Museum.

5. Feel free to use your mobile device to take pictures without a flash (as long as there is no sign indicating that photos are not allowed in that area). If you share those through social media, considering tagging the museum #CrystalBridges. Crystal Bridges employees love to see what our guests are enjoying about the Museum.

6. And don’t forget to download our free mobile app CBMuseum, which offers audio tours as well as a calendar of events. The app is now available on Android as well as Apple devices.

Also published on Crystal Bridges Museum Blog.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Last Chance to Hear Crystal Bridges’ Award-Winning Music Tour!

Recently, Crystal Bridges received the Gold MUSE award for Audio Tours and Podcasts from the American Alliance of Museums’ Media & Technology committee for the audio/music tour of the temporary exhibition This Land: Picturing a Changing America in the 1930s and 1940s.  This is the highest award that a museum can receive for an audio tour.  MUSE awards honor outstanding achievement for digital media that enhances the experience and engages audiences. They celebrate scholarship, community, innovation, creativity, education, and inclusiveness.  Judges consider each project’s accessibility in terms of ADA, the overall production quality, the inventiveness, and the impact that the project makes to the museum field.

The goal of Crystal Bridges’ winning audio tour was to illuminate guests’ exploration of the exhibition in a unique way. Thus we partnered with the Fayetteville Roots Festival to curate a collection of music to accompany This Land. Each of the stops on this musical tour featured a song by 2013 Fayetteville Roots Festival performers that captured the essence of a particular image in the exhibition. Crystal Bridges Associate Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man and Bryan Hembree, Director of the Fayetteville Roots Festival, provided background and commentary for each tour stop.

The museum enjoys wonderful relationships with local organizations that often allow for unique partnership opportunities, and music is an important aspect of the culture in our local community.  Thus when Senior Museum Educator Sara Segerlin had the idea to partnering with the Fayetteville Roots Festival for this music audio tour it seemed like the perfect fit.

The Crystal Bridges team believed that regionalist music would strongly interrelate with the artwork, either through the lyrics, the mood and rhythm of the song connecting with the painting’s mood and visual rhythms, or through instrumentation. Since the exhibition This Land: Picturing a Changing America in the1930s and 1940s focuses on artists’ responses to major natural events and the changing rural and urban landscapes prior to World War II, it was easy to find contemporary folk music that reflects the same sentiments amongst the musicians performing at the 2013 Fayetteville Roots Festival.

Personally, of the audio tours I’ve had the privilege of producing, this was one of my favorites. So it was wonderful to receive praise such as this from the MUSE judges:  “We loved the multi-sensory approach of this tour, and appreciated the different entry point to the exhibition theme for different types of visitors. This is a neat idea—Crystal Bridges went the extra mile to connect with their local community through this tour.”

I believe music-based audio tours have the potential to be a growing practice in the museum field.  Music can allow a viewer to engage an exhibit in a new way as well as helping him or her better understand a time, place, event, or emotion.  How can you not love great art and great music?

I’m also happy to announce that in honor of our award, we will be re-publishing the tour in our CB Museum app from now through July 10, 2014.  The app is available on Apple and Android platforms.  If you select “Museum Tours” and scroll through the list, you will find The Music Experience of This Land available for download. Since the exhibition is no longer on view in our galleries, wall labels are included and images of the artwork display while the audio plays.


Also published on the Crystal Bridges Museum Blog.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Crystal Bridges Receives Award for Conservat

A few weeks ago the Arkansas Museums Association hosted it’s annual meeting in North Little Rock. The meeting is a wonderful two and half days of sessions and events that allow museum professionals from all over the state to get together to exchange ideas and offer each other support for challenges that they might be facing. I attended the conference as a board member and I presented a session on new technologies in museums.  Our Director of Security Geoff Goodrich also presented on everyday security for museums.

The annual meeting concludes with the awards banquet, which is always a special occasion as we take time to recognize each other’s accomplishments.  My position on the board is as the representative from the third congressional district and I’m proud to say that out of the eight categories of awards five awards went to museums in our area. (You can see award winners on the AMA’s facebook page) Crystal Bridges received recognition for Outstanding Achievement in Conservation for work done on Luis Alfonso Jimenez’s sculpture Vaquero.

Below are excerpts from the nomination to help explain how important this project was:

Vaquero is a fiberglass sculpture with an internal steel frame and a decorative surface consisting of layers of color paint covered by a protective clear coat.  Lengthy periods of outdoor display, as well as the nature of the acrylic urethane paint used by Jimenez, resulted in areas of damage and deterioration that threatened the sculpture’s original decorative surface. 

In 2011, Crystal Bridges began working with Robert Pringle Art Restoration to carry out a comprehensive treatment of Vaquero.  In March of that year, Pringle made a site visit to El Paso, Texas, where the sculpture was located at the time, to assess its condition and develop a treatment plan. The damage noted included crackling, paint loss, and delamination of the clear coat on several surface areas.  Pringle proposed a treatment plan and the sculpture was relocated in October to Houston, TX.  Upon examination at the facility, more extensive damage was discovered.  Areas of significant damage included the figure’s hat, pistol, and saddlebag; and the horse’s tail, mane, and legs.

Once begun, work on Vaquero had to progress quickly in order to ensure proper bonding of the paint and clear-coat layers.  Areas of delaminated clear-coat were removed and oxidized, and exposed paint surfaces were wet-sanded.  Areas of open cracking and air bubbles were filled, consolidated, and wet-sanded as well.  Prior to repainting, the surface of the sculpture was scuffed and cleaned, and areas of paint loss were repainted with original colors.  After repainting, the restored surface was given two layers of protective clear coat. The steel base plate, which suffered extensive rust and peeling paint, was also cleaned and primed.

The sculpture base also received attention.  A single layer of peeling paint covered the stucco surface of the base.  Pringle removed the old paint and filled the cracks in the base.  The base was repainted, using a sample area of unexposed old paint to indicate the original color.  Substantial treatment of the sculpture and its base was completed by July, 2012.  Just prior to the sculpture’s installation on the grounds of Crystal Bridges in March 2013, the base’s rusted steel frame was cleaned, primed, and given a protective coating. 

Because Vaquero is installed outside, its condition will be monitored regularly.  The maintenance schedule recommended by Robert Pringle is an application of clear coat to the sculpture every seven years and treatment of the base every five years.

As you can understand, the conservation of this work was a great accomplishment, and I was honored to accept the recognition on the Museum’s behalf!

Also Published on the Crystal Bridges Museum Blog

Friday, March 28, 2014

Join the Conversation: Crystal Bridges and iTunes U

The reason I was drawn to the use of technology in museums is that it has the power to make the museum more accessible.  Unfortunately a museum can’t be open 24 hours a day 7 days week, but through technology the art and museum programs can be.

My duties at Crystal Bridges include managing the mobile app and producing all the audio tours that have been published through the app.  But I also managed the Museum’s presence in iTunes U.

In case you are not familiar with iTunes U,  it is the section of the iTunes store that is dedicated to educational content.  All the content providers in that area are educational non-profits and all the content provided must be free.  Providers include such organizations as Harvard, Yale, the Smithsonian Institution, and The Museum of Modern Art, as well as other Arkansas providers – Arkansas Department of Education, University of Arkansas, and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History.

On iTunes U the museum publishes recordings of our art talks, lectures, outdoor classes, and more, but my favorite thing to produce for iTunes U is the extended versions of our audio tours that are published in the CB Museum app.

You may not realize most of the audio tours are unscripted conversations about a work of art.  Most of the time 15 minutes is allotted for two people to discuss a work of art, though sometimes the conversations end up being longer, when people become engrossed in their discussion.  Now imagine having to cut those 15-20-minute conversations down to 2 minutes or less! It is by far one of the hardest aspects of creating an audio tour.

When recordings are published to iTunes U, however, I don’t have to worry about that.  Nothing gets left on the proverbial cutting room floor and every juicy morsel of the conversation, no matter where it leads, is shared.

To get you started I’ll suggest one of my favorites.  The discussion focuses on Dan Flavin’s work Untitled (to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Inch) for the museum’s exhibition See the Light.  Then Director (now Museum President) Don Bacigalupi and Public Programs Coordinator Sara Segerlin have a fascinating conversation about why a seemingly simple light fixture is in fact a sculpture.

Also Published on the Crystal Bridges Museum Blog.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

New Things to Come

Currently I've been working on a new website for my presentations and handouts.  I've also been working on catching up on my research readings. Which, you guessed it, means new blog posts!!

Other than that, I've been working really hard on maintain a number of projects at Crystal Bridges.  We launched a new version of the app a few weeks ago and it's been going well.  And of course there are always new files to published for iTunes U.

I'm also looking for some new tech podcasts.  Bring forth the recommendations, and thanks in advance!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Guided Access - Can It Aid in Device Management? – Part 2

In my last post I covered how Guided Access is being used to help us manage the iPads in our Reflection Areas. This time I want to share how Guided Access has worked on our iPod touches.

The museum has 80 4th generation iPod Touches with our iOS app installed available for guests to check out. These are free thanks to the generous sponsorship of Cox Communications. After talking to colleagues at other institutions about their experiences, and trying out several alternatives, the decision was made to use iPod cases that do not cover the Home button. Even though covering the Home button could have helped control the devices, the benefits of allowing staff and knowledgeable users to easily service devices when needed seemed to outweigh the potential costs of leaving the Home button accessible.

To conserve battery life and prevent new content from being installed on the iPods, we decided to use Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility to create a configuration profile to block access to certain apps such as Facetime, Camera, App Store, iTunes, and Safari.

What we did not expect was the creative ways some of our guests would find to use other apps that cannot be blocked. One example was setting reminder alerts to display messages proclaiming, “You’ve won $2! Go to the front desk to collect.” We often find alarms, voice memos, and notes that are created by guests as well. Because some of these can be offensive, our Guest Services staff must take time when a device is returned to check all the affected apps.

Since this is our first year of being open, we are constantly evaluating procedures to make them more efficient and to better serve our guests, so we were looking for a solution that would cut down staff time needed to check-in a device, thus making it available to the public again faster.

On the iPods running our mobile app, Guided Access worked great. We no longer had guests leaving memos, recording voice messages, setting alarms, or giving false reminders about winning cash prizes at the front desk. However, we did have a major issue with guests no longer being able to control the volume.

That's right: Guided Access mode disables all the hardware button functions, including the volume. In the Guided Access settings, you can choose to enable screen sleep so the Sleep button will only put the device to sleep and not turn it off, but you cannot do the same for volume control.  I’ve tried contacting Apple to see if this is a bug, but it appears that's how they intended the program to work. I’ve also talked with several others in the field of education technology who are struggling with this issue. Teachers are especially affected, since they have to turn off Guided Access, individually adjust the volume for each child in the class, and then turn Guided Access back on.

Perhaps Apple will address this issue in the future, but we couldn't wait.  We tried to set the volume control at the 50% level, thinking it might be a good compromise for most listeners. However, hearing capabilities vary so much between individuals that it was better for us to stop using Guided Access, so after two days we turned Guided Access off on our iPods. Another alternative would be to provide headphone with their own volume controls, but that could add significantly to the expense of the headphones, as well as introducing an additional physical feature that could break. It could be a viable solution in many situations, though.

The good thing we discovered, though, is that if the app you're using has software volume controls, then you can still adjust the volume while in Guided Access. Perhaps Apple expects everyone to use an app that has software volume controls. The good news for Crystal Bridges is that we can work with our development company to get this function added to our app. However, that isn't an option for users who can't add features to the apps they need to use Guided Access with, so it is an imperfect solution at best.