Interactive Programs at the Luce Foundation Center


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An overview of recent interactive programs at the Luce Foundation Center, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum [notes embedded].

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  • In 2001, the Henry Luce Foundation gave the museum $10 million to establish the Luce Center, the first visible art storage and study center in Washington DC. $7 million of that was a grant for development of the Center and $3 million was to set up an endowment for ongoing support of staff and programs.   On three levels, we display around 3,300 artworks from the museum’s collection. We have large sculptures on the main level, then objects in floor-to-ceiling glass cases on the two mezzanine levels. It is not curated in a typical sense, but we have tried to make it make sense for the viewer by grouping like objects together.
  • The Luce Center is a study center, so we wanted to provide information about the works on view for those visitors who are interested. This information is available on ten computer kiosks dotted around the center. We researched and wrote interpretive text labels for every single object and biographies for every single artist in the Center. That works out to more than 5,000 paragraphs of text! It took around four years to complete all of the research and writing.   In addition, there are hundreds of video and audio clips. You can zoom, locate, and collect every object, and twenty are available to view in 3D.
  • In February, we began a citizen curator project on Flickr. The Luce Center is a dynamic place, with objects often departing to go on view elsewhere, to be loaned to other museums, or to undergo conservation work. If an object leaves for more than 12 months, it is up to us to replace it.   Last year was a very busy year with over 36 paintings departing the Center. We decided to set up a project on Flickr to see if we could solicit help from the general public. We posted an image of the “gap” with details of the other works in the case and dimensions. We tasked the public to search our online collections and make recommendations for a replacement. This is not an easy task – we have over 41,000 works in our collection – but we gave the public exactly the same tools that we use.
  • We didn’t have huge participation with this, but the people that have contributed have submitted quality suggestions. We’ve been posting roughly one gap per month.   One thing this project has done is reveal behind-the-scenes processes. We document the whole process on Flickr- checking with the registrar to see whether the artwork fits, getting approval on the selection from the curators, and submitting the move requests to get the works installed.
  • Last summer, we tried a different approach by bringing the conversation into the galleries. We picked a pool of possible objects and asked visitors to the Luce Center to vote on their choice. We also asked them to tell us why they picked a particular object. This had far better participation. We still posted all of the comments and votes to Flickr so that people could participate on-line, too.
  • In October, we launched an audio tour in the Luce Center. This is an obvious interpretive solution. Currently, we have lots of juicy content on the computer kiosks, but no way to access the information while standing in front of the object. We are doing a pilot for six months using two different platforms – visitors can access over 150 stops using their own cell phone, or by borrowing a simple MP3 device from the museum. We created 110 traditional audio stops – curatorial voice and content – but then decided we wanted to add something a little more fun, so we created over 70 “rogue” stops. The rogue stops feature Luce Center staff members talking informally about some of their favorite objects. We also try to answer some of the more popular questions, including “What is this place?” “Where are all the labels?” and “Why do you have objects in drawers?”
  • In 2008, we implemented the world’s first museum based Alternate Reality Game titled “Ghosts of a Chance.” We did this for three main reasons – to create an interactive experience in an art museum, a place where interactivity is usually discouraged, to attract a new audience of gamers who would not typically consider visiting an art museum, and to promote the museum. For us, an ARG is an interactive story that demands players active participation – the story does not continue unless players do something. It takes place in real time and using real-world elements (phones, web, e-mail, physical spaces, in-person interaction), and is inspired by and integrated with our collection.
  • To get players talking about the upcoming game, the game designers decided to gatecrash the annual conference for hardcore ARG players – ARGFest-o-con. They hired a bodybuilder and tattooed his chest with the first clue: “Luce’s Lover’s Eye.” […]
  • A clue hidden within the object page led players to the game Web site, which in turn asked them to e-mail an image of an eye and to call a phone number. The site also included a countdown, which told the players that the game would begin in September. (We received 150 images of eyes, and over 250 phonecalls) Early press also helped with the game, as we were able to conceal clues in an article and the Smithsonian Magazine. The Museum also issued a formal press release, which was almost entirely fictional.
  • The story of the game focused around two young curators, Daisy and Daniel, who were being haunted by restless spirits. They shared elements of the story on the game web site, as well as through videos and comments posted on YouTube, mySpace, and Facebook.
  • When the game officially launched in September, Daisy and Daniel announced that they needed to hold an exhibition in the museum in order to put the ghosts to rest and save the museum. So they invited players to create a series of artifacts. There were six challenges in total, with one being announced each week. The challenges related to objects in our collection as well as the story of the ghosts. Players had just a couple of days to answer the challenge, make the artifact, and mail it into the museum. (We received 33 artifacts from 14 players).
  • The artifacts were temporarily catalogued into the collection. Participants wrote their own labels, which were also included on-line.
  • On October 25, we held the final 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. As we knew many players did not live in DC and so couldn’t attend, we invited them to create one of the codes in the game from a 19 th century quilt.
  • Game tasks included: Text messaging the answer to questions in order to get the next clue Creating sculptures out of foil Using sculpture to decipher complex code and Following treasure maps
  • The final event was so successful and received such great feedback that we decided to create a module version that we could run on a recurring basis. Feedback included: “ It turned an already interesting museum into a place of wonder” “ I never would have spent the time staring into a painting and trying to understand it if it weren’t part of a task.” “ This is the first time that it felt like the museum was meant to be fun and interactive rather than somber and pensive.” “ A fantastic way to examine the collections and pay specific attention to the various works on art on display.” This version has just 3 quests, can be run by just one or two staff members, and takes around 90 minutes to complete. After a few months, we had so many people demanding a sequel that we created one, Return of the Spirits.
  • The popularity of these games and the ease of creating content for cell phones has led us to develop a variety of other experimental programs in the Luce Center. These include A choose-your-own-adventure style game titled “The Case of the Missing Artwork,” in which players text their way around the Luce Center to solve the crime; A couple of text-message tours: mad genius, which takes you around the work of eccentric artists, and 6 degrees, which connects artists together in unexpected ways; And “I like…” audio tours, in which visitors can select from different themes, including I like the color red, I like Ex-Pats, and I like shiny things. Response has been great so far!
  • In development We are working with the Rochester Institute of Technology to create a Facebook game that is based around the concepts of collecting and exhibiting art. This game is still in the early stages, but players will receive points for caring for their collections correctly and for designing thoughtful exhibitions. We’ve given RIT permission to use 196 collection images in the game so far. We hope that the game will expand to include objects from other museums and cultural institutions. We’re also working with the game designers from Ghosts of a Chance to create a new alternate reality game, PHEON. This is in the very early stages at the moment, but it will be a mission-based game and we hope to launch sometime this summer.
  • Interactive Programs at the Luce Foundation Center

    2. 7. Luce staffer Bridget
    3. 8. An ARG is “an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions .” -- Wikipedia
    4. 12. <ul><li>Necklace of the Subaltern Betrayer </li></ul><ul><li>Predictor of Imminent Doom </li></ul><ul><li>Con Artists’ Replica </li></ul><ul><li>Diorama of a Travesty </li></ul><ul><li>Memory Vessel </li></ul><ul><li>Escape Quilt </li></ul>
    5. 17. Luce staffers Tierney & Mary