The Museum More than seven thousand artists are represented in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, including masters such as John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Christo, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Nam June Paik, and Robert Rauschenberg. We pride ourselves on identifying significant aspects of American visual culture and actively collecting and exhibiting works of art before many other major public collections. In the past this has included New Deal art, contemporary craft, folk art, photography, and video art.
In FY10 (Oct 1, 2009 through Sept 30, 2010): 47,583 people attended 551 public programs. Regular programs include: Family Days Lectures Musical Performances Gallery tours and talks Film screenings
Just to give you an idea of where we were before our first ARG In FY 2008… Half (50%) were making an initial visit to DWRC. The rest had visited prior to, or since it reopened to the public. Of those who were making return visits to the DWRC since the reopening, half had made more than one visit. Adults alone (14%) or with others (77%) were the predominant visitor configurations; single adults or couples with young people constituted the rest of the visitors. Half of the visitors were 42 years old or younger, the remainder older. The average age was 44. The ages of visitors in the last three surveys have been about the same. With the exception of “activities and things for children to do,” all of the programmatic aspects (exhibitions, visible storage, & interpretation) of the DWRC received equally high ratings. Only 66% of people rated activities for children at “excellent” or “superior.” (Donald W. Reynolds Center Visitor Survey, Study Highlights and Frequency Distributions, Fall 2008)
We also wanted to improve the museum experience for 12-18-year-olds, who do not typically find art museums to be fun or social. They typically were not excited before, during, or after their visit.
What’s in a name? Our current name is the Smithsonian American Art Museum. We suffer from brand confusion for several reasons: We share a building with the National Portrait Gallery. A museum concept that is familiar to everyone as almost every country has a national portrait gallery. The two museums together are known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. However, this is just the name for the “concept.” The building itself is known as the Historic Patent Office Building. We belong to the Smithsonian Institution, which most people have heard of, but not many realize that it is composed of 19 museums, 9 research centers, and the National Zoo. We also have a habit of changing our name. Since our collection began in the mid-nineteenth century, we have been known as the National Gallery of Art, the National Collection of Fine Arts, and the National Museum of American Art. We became the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2000.
ARG as public program We launched Ghosts of a Chance in 2008. It told the story of two fictional curators – Daisy and Daniel – who were being haunted by ghosts that had a story to tell. Clues were planted through various online social media spaces and the Ghosts of a Chance website. Players learned that they had to create a series of artifacts for an exhibition at the museum. The full game archive is available at Ghostsofachance.com
ARG as public program The game ended with an event in the museum. This included an exhibition of all the player-created artifacts and a five-hour multimedia scavenger hunt around the museum. The scavenger hunt involved 6 quests, each of which was tied to a character in the story.
Game tasks included: Text messaging Cake Looking out of a window and reading a protestor’s sign Looking for a jacket in the coat room and answering the phone in the pocket Creating sculptures out of foil Using sculpture to decipher complex code
ARG as public program We packaged this final activity into a 90-minute version that we ran as a public program or by appointment. It began in December of 2008 and will end on October 31st, 2010.
To date (Oct 19), we have run the game for 18 public programs and 57 scheduled groups. A total of 2,934 people have played.
ARG as public program Through observations and informal surveys we have determined that the game: Brought new & younger audiences to the museum (chart) Increased our repeat visitors as players returned to play subsequent games (Return of the Spirits and Pheon)
ARG as public program Provided a fun and social activity that teens actually enjoyed (chart) “If someone had told me about a program which would leave 15-year olds discussing art with the same animation they show for sports and movie stars, I would not have believed them!” "I felt like I was living in National Treasure. The best museum experience ever“
Gave existing audiences new insights into our exhibitions and collections “[…] with such a creative exercise, we visited parts of the museum we’ve never seen before. [it] turned an already interesting museum into an exciting place of wonder, where every question led to another new discovery.” “I have spent quite some time in art museums and this is probably the first time that it felt like the museum was meant to be fun and interactive rather than more somber and pensive.”
Building Communities I have already mentioned that Ghosts of a Chance encouraged repeat visitors to the physical museum. In addition, it helped build a community around the game and the museum: The game provided a platform for players to interact with real staff members through social and traditional media (Unfiction, Facebook, email, phone). Players responded to the fact that "the Smithsonian" valued their work by displaying their creations online and in the museum. This initiated an ongoing collaborative relationship founded on museum/visitor trust.
Comments: “An internet collaborative art display in a national museum? Is it me, or is this very frigging cool!” “What Ghosts of a Chance did well was invite participants to take part in the exhibit – essentially becoming part of the exhibit themselves.” “[Ghosts of a Chance] was really refreshing and definitely gave me a sense of community with the people who were coordinating the event and the other people participating in it.”
ARG as branding Ghosts of a Chance was a great way to get our name out there. Everything that occurred within the game was branded with our name. Trailhead: Bodybuilder at the ARGFest-o-Con event in Boston. The words on his chest led people directly to a page on our website.
ARG as branding Game logos included our name or acronym Every page of the website included our name and a link to our website, and the background image was an interior shot of the museum’s courtyard Each artifact-challenge had connections to objects in our collection The final event took place at the museum and incorporated almost every gallery space
Ideas for AGOG Programming/Building communities: Create “live events” that fit into the narrative and allow small, local communities to participate in game activities. The hands-on event at the Library Research Seminar conference allowed participants to contribute ideas to the game’s narrative by creating possible objects for the Cabinet. Facilitate online discussion through forums, blogs, etc. Make sure that the puppetmasters are accessible to game players in a variety of ways. Think about how to archive or consolidate all game materials and plan for how the community might exist after the game ends. If you say that the narrative of the game will be determined by player activity, then make sure you mean it!
Smithsonian American art museum
In FY10 (Oct 1, 2009 through Sept 30, 2010):
º 47,583 people attended 551 public programs.
Regular programs include:
º Family Days
º Musical Performances
º Gallery tours and talks
º Film screenings
In Fall 2008…
º Half of our visitors were visiting the museum for the first time
º Adults alone or in groups were the predominant visitor
º The average visitor age was 44 years
º “Activities and things for children to do” did not rate as highly
as museum exhibitions, collections, and interpretation
º We didn’t do anything for teens
What’s in a name?
º Smithsonian American Art Museum (museum name)
º National Portrait Gallery (tenant in common)
º Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture
º Historic Patent Office Building (building name)
º Smithsonian Institution (institution name)
º National Gallery of Art (former museum name)
º National Collection of Fine Arts (former museum name)
º National Museum of American Art (former museum name)
0-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69 70+ No response
How old are you?
Arg as Public program
“If someone had told me
about a program which
would leave 15-year
olds discussing art with
the same animation they
show for sports and
movie stars, I would not
have believed them!”
-10th Grade Group Leader
“I felt like I was living
Treasure. The best
ever” -10th Grade Player
Arg as Public program
7 – Lots of fun
Now that you’ve been to this museum, do you think
the museum is fun or boring? Please give us a rating
between 1 to 7 with 1 being boring and 7 being fun.
“An internet collaborative art display in a national
Is it me, or is this very frigging cool!”
“What Ghosts of a Chance did well was invite
participants to take part in the exhibit – essentially
becoming part of the exhibit themselves.”
“[Ghosts of a Chance] was really refreshing and
definitely gave me a sense of community with the people
who were coordinating the event and the other people
participating in it.”