Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Abigail J. King (page 1 of 4)

Tragedy Strikes in the Lunar New Year

With the Lunar New Year ringing in just yesterday, it is a tragedy that the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan lost most of its collection in a fire the day before what should have been a celebration. The archive caught fire not far from the actual museum, and the 85,000-piece collection was likely completely destroyed, whether from fire or water damage. Any pieces that did survive are inaccessible at this time due to building damage. There was one man critically injured and several firefighters with minor injuries, but no deaths reported. There is no criminal activity linked to the fire, and the case is being investigated.

The building itself is historic, having once been used as a public school for immigrant children. The collection included donated items like family albums, clothing, newspapers and other artifacts owned by immigrants. Their loss in the fire is irreparable. The good news is that 35,000 documents had been digitized prior to the fire, and some of the collection is safe because it is on display at the museum.

This museum and its community are mourning the loss of the precious collection. They did have some digital copies of documents, and storage was separate from the museum; however, the damage is done to the collection and to the trust of those who lent their property to the museum.

To prevent such catastrophes, museums should start with the basics: having an emergency/disaster-preparedness plan. Museums and archives alike should assess their collection and its housing for risks to human and collection safety. Also, for collections housed in historic buildings, there needs to be a balance between preservation needs of the structure and mitigating risk to people and the collection. Sometimes that balance calls into question the use of an automated fire suppression system. Hopefully, as more news about this horrific event is revealed, the museum will stay transparent about its prevention measures and how it will be able to improve in the future.

Jobs Round-up

Northeast:

Director of Donor and Member Engagement (Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA)

Curator, African Art (Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY)

Gallery Registrar (Alexander Gray Associates, New York, NY)

South:

Membership Manager (Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville, TN)

Exhibition Designer (High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA)

Midwest:

Registrar (Art Bridges, Bentonville, AR)

Curator of Clothing and Textiles (Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis)

Curator of Anthropology–Dickson Mounds (Illinois State Museum, Lewiston, IL)

Associate Curator of Exhibitions (Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn, Iowa)

Mid-Atlantic:

Fine Arts Program Collections Assistant (Federal Reserve Board, Washington, D.C.)

Public Programs Coordinator (Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, VA)

West:

Rights Coordinator (Getty Publications, Los Angeles, CA)

Exhibit Fabricator (Ideum, Corrales, NM)

Weekly Jobs Roundup

West:

Interpretation Manager (Filoli Center, Woodside, CA)

Education Specialist (Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, Palm Springs, CA)

Public Programs Coordinator (Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, Palm Springs, CA)

Curator Exhibitions (Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles, CA)

Midwest:

Curator (Sioux City Art Center, Sioux City, IA)

Northeast:

Visitor Services Associate (Sterling and Francine Clark Art institute, Williamstown, MA)

Senior Manager, Production and Venue Operations, Education (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York)

Education and Youth Program Manager (The Preservation Society of Newport County, Newport, Rhode Island)

Mid-Atlantic :

Supervisory Visual Information Specialist (Smithsonian Exhibits, Landover, MD)

Advancement Assistant (Smithsonian Science and Education Center, Washington, D.C.)

South:

Associate Registrar (Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL)

Visitor Services Manager (Sarasota Art Museum, Sarasota, FL)

KHS Curator (Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY)

Phones in Museums

Oh, Bette Midler, I know your heart was in a good place with that tweet. For those who have other things to do besides read through hundreds of internet comments, then the scoop is this: Actress and singer Bette Midler, our beloved Hocus Pocus star, tweeted a picture of three tweens on their phones at an art museum. The caption read, “What’s wrong with this picture?” 

The point she is trying to make is many-fold, and there’s no denying that it is a generational judgement call. Younger generations are widely considered obsessive when it comes to technology, particularly when it comes to being on our phones. Honestly, for a lot of us Millennials and Gen Z’s, this tweet is reminiscent of a high school teacher yelling at the class to put their phones away. I think that trauma is why so many people got up in arms about it last week.

Several comments noted that museums have interactive apps that educate visitors about art pieces. Or those young people could be googling their own searches about the artists. Or, like we all do, they are just simply taking a mental break and checking their messages. Nothing is inherently wrong with the picture. People learn in a myriad of ways, and phones are engaging tools that everyone has, so it comes at no extra cost to the museum. Phones should be out to enjoy as we please—though keep the flash off when taking a picture (which I still forget to check, and sometimes accidently do, and it’s far more embarrassing than it needs to be). 

The Louvre has an app that gives close up looks details and information about some of their art. The British Museum has a similar app that also provides audio commentary and tours. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence has an app with virtual tours. The MoMA’s app provides visual descriptions for visitors with sight impairments. The Smithsonian has a myriad of apps to engage with in museums and in the natural world to learn more about our surroundings.

Please leave a comment about what your opinion is about phones in museums. Also, if you know of an app that I did not mention, please note it.

Virtual Reality Experience

MASS MoCA has virtual reality (VR) experiences from Laurie Anderson, which you can view through 2020. She has developed projects there in the past and was an artist-in-residence. Anderson is a poet, filmmaker, vocalist, and multimedia artist, and the VR experiences of Chalkroom and Aloft showcased that. For both you would sit in a swiveling chair, place a VR headset with earphones over your head, and then were transported to another place and time that was like a curious dream of hers that you had entered. 

Chalkroom is a massive labyrinth of black walls marked with chalk and glowing portals that you can fly through with a push of your arms. Aloft begins with you sitting in an empty plane that gradually comes apart around you until you are floating in the air, using your virtual hands to grasp at objects swirling around you, to listen to Anderson’s hypnotic anecdotes. When I experienced the latter, I grasped onto the seat because my stomach dropped at the illusion of being up high. In the former, I was giddy flying through and exploring the chalkroom. It was a strange coincidence that I had been seriously considering the importance of VR technology in museums just a month prior, and then got to experience it firsthand. 

VR technology allows the audience to be emerged in the experience of a work of art, or it can act as a tour through a gallery. Curators, artists, and educators alike can utilize this technology for a new perspective on content. It connects to younger audiences that struggle to engage with static exhibits. VR can engage your hearing, movements, thinking, and visual perception. Though VR can draw people to museums, VR also means that people with impaired mobility or trouble accessing museums due to its location, cost, or social atmosphere can access great works of art and history from a remote location.

Money and timing are important factors. VR headsets can range from $20 to $1000 depending on whether you want headphones, hand controls, hand sensors, and a comfortable head clasp. By timing, I mean that if a museum could afford the technology, there would certainly be a limit on how much they could afford, so there may be two headsets that people must take turns to use, like at the Anderson installations that had six altogether and people had to schedule an appointment to have the experience. Despite this, VR technology can encourage new and returning visitors to offset the cost.

Hopefully, museums across the world will engage with this more immersive version of VR technology so that everyone can experience the richness of many cultures from close to home.  

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