The American Textile History Museum also features a wide range of video options for visitors. They are both historical and contemporary in nature and appeal to visitors in a variety of ways. For the sake of this critique, videos will be broken down into three categories: informational, maker, and historical. There are highs and lows of each category, but overall the videos successfully add to the visitor experience.
One of the first rooms visitors can enter is a media room. A large screen is set up in the front of the room. Along the wall are several buttons and the opportunity for visitors to choose a video. The label clearly indicated which buttons correspond to a specific video. A short description is provided along with the length of the video. Here is where visitors will find most of their textile informational videos. Combining science, history, and engineering, each of the videos takes on a disciple and explains some aspect of the textile industry. From the fine silk of spiders to the complex workings of a knitting machine, the video breaks down how a certain textile comes to be. Some of the videos are narrated with captions. Others let the machinery do the talking. This room is a great way to explore the interdisciplinary nature of textiles. Not simply art or history, the videos appeal to a wide range of visitors. The videos also echo the nature of the museum. Although it is technically labeled a history museum, there are many avenues that can be explored. The videos are also appealing to a wide range of audiences. Kids could appreciate the spider video, while a college art student would find the Marimekko fabric printing video to be fascinating. Some videos tended to be on the longer side, but for the most part were engaging enough to hold the visitor’s attention.
Maker videos – where artists showcase their craft – are some of the most interesting videos the museum has to offer. These videos are successful for two reasons. First, they pair a contemporary take on an historic craft. One exhibit takes visitors on a journey through historic advertisements. The exhibit walls are lined with adverts for various woolen, linen, and cotton products. In the center is an old machine that probably printed some of those exact advertisements. Just outside the exhibit space is a large television that features artist Kate Desforges demonstrating a stone lithography printing process. The video is wonderfully crafted and is fascinating to watch the artist explain the process while doing it. There are other media moments that could have accompanied this video wonderfully, such as a touch-screen that allows visitors to design their own prints. The one drawback to the video was the physical location. It would have been much more powerful if it was actually in the exhibit space, next to the historic machine. Less curious visitors might miss the video all together. Location is key.
These videos are found throughout the main exhibit space. Typically used to showcase historic moments through narration and photographs, the screens blend nicely into the space. They are often in darker areas of the exhibit space, so primary focus remains on the objects and the video only comes to life if visitors decide to watch it. The historic images, such as photographs of endless mill complexes and the immigrants who worked in them, do a great job contextualizing objects and themes. They convey a different time period to the visitor well and do so quite in-depth. Like the endless mills, the videos often seem endless. What should be a short, informational snapshot of an historic event turns into a History Channel documentary. The videos are entirely too long and so many stories are told that it is easy for visitor to lose the message. They can be exhaustive and because so much information is given, it is hard for visitors to extract things that may interest them. Each of these historical videos could easily be broken down into two, perhaps three, separate videos. Most visitors walked away before the video ended. An easy solution to this problem would be to cut the videos and put additional videos on the website, making them accessible via QR code if visitors wanted more information during their visit.
There are definitely high and low aspects to using so many videos in a single museum. On one hand, they allow visitors to explore things that are impossible in the exhibit space. On the other, too much information can be overwhelming. Overall the American Textile maintains a good balance. A little refinement would transform this great media experience into an excellent one.