Two weeks ago I traveled to Olot, Spain, where I was invited to give the opening talk for a two-day course on digital media and museums. It was inspiring to hear from a range of speakers on the latest trends—from hackathons and transmedia games to beacons—and I wanted to share a few threads that ran throughout the course of the event.
1. Place & people
Olot is a small city in Catalonia, about an hour and a half north of Barcelona and an hour south of the French border by car. The region of Catalonia has recently been in the news for lobbying to gain independence from Spain, and that was certainly in the air: the Catalan separatist flag waved from many a balcony. The 38 conference attendees were mostly from Catalonia, with a few participants from other parts of Spain.
My inner-linguist was in high gear with the blending of and switching between various languages—this is the first and only trilingual conference I’ve ever attended. Catalan is the local language in the region and was therefore the main language of the event; in addition, two of the sessions were presented in Spanish, and another was in English. (This conference was a bit of a milestone for me—it was the first formal talk I’ve given in Spanish, and I think it wasn’t half bad!)
I mention all of this background not only because they’re interesting tidbits, but because language, local history, and politics shape museums—in the subjects we deal with, the audiences we serve, and the staff that produce our exhibitions.
2. Engaging with tech without high-tech budgets
Due to Spain’s current economic crisis, many cultural institutions in the region lack both the staffing and funds to be able to implement them right now. Still, as Eduard Bech, the conference’s organizer, explained, it is incredibly important for Catalonian museum professionals to stay up-to-date with innovation in museums: “We need to know about the newest technologies to be able to advocate for them in the future.”
In recent years, the United Kingdom has also seen severe cuts to cultural budgets. But Kevin Bacon of the Royal Pavilion and Museums of Brighton sees the silver lining to this cloud: the lack of funds requires that his organization reprioritize digital offerings. Moving forward, the website will serve as the center of RPM’s digital activity, centralizing resources and experiences in one place.
3. Community & co-production
One way that museums have dealt with budget cuts is by working with community partners. Co-production was a thread found in virtually all of the conference presentations. I cited the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Media Lab, which began inviting creative technologists to work on wacky and wonderful projects as a way to experiment with new trends in technology despite limited resources. For the Royal Pavilion and Museums in Brighton, co-production is a way to bring in new ideas and voices. In 2013, they invited Chris T-T as a blogger-in-residence. As a rapper and a writer, Chris T-T brought a unique outsider’s perspective on the everyday, behind-the-scenes happenings of the museums. And, finally, the Agbar Museu de les Aigües held HackatH20n, a hackathon in which participants came up with applications that get users to think about water and its importance in the world. The game devised by the event’s winners will be produced and distributed in the museum, but this form of co-production had another advantage for Museu Agbar: it engaged audiences who might not otherwise visit the museum.
I just joined The Warhol a month ago as the new manager of digital engagement, and this conference left me thinking about how we might be able to continue developing exciting audience experiences. I’ve inherited a lot of awesome projects here: the Screen Test Machine transports visitors to Warhol’s Factory in the 1960s, where they get to be the subject of one of his short silent films; and the digital strategy published last year is a living document to direct our priorities for the next two years. I’ll be taking the learnings from this conference as I delve into digital projects at The Warhol.
A big gràcies to Museus d’Olot’s Edward Bech for putting together such a thoughtful roster of speakers and convening the event.
The featured image is a stop light in Olot featuring gegants, a popular giant costumed figure featured at festivals in the region.