On October 23rd, 2014, we updated our
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My name is Georgina Goodlander and I am the Interpretive Programs Manager of the Luce Foundation
Center. This is a visible storage facility within the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Luce Center is treated as a testing ground within the museum. We have the freedom and the
resources to try more experimental projects before deciding whether to implement them throughout
Slide – American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery in
downtown DC. Our collection actually dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, but we have been in
this building since 1968. Currently, we get around 1 million visitors to this building every year
Slide – Renovation (west wing)
Here, you can see two historic images of the space that is now home to the Luce Foundation Center.
The building was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century and was originally home to the Patent
Office. It used to be a requirement to submit a model with every patent application, and they used to
use the third floor of the building to display all of these models.
At the turn of the twentieth-century, they removed this requirement and actually auctioned off all of
the models in the collection. They turned over the space on the third floor to public records.
The Patent Office moved out in the 1930s. In the 1950s, they wanted to demolish the building to turn it
into a parking lot, but President Eisenhower intervened and turned it over to the Smithsonian in 1958.
Ten years later, it opened as the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.
In 2000, the building closed again for six and a half years for a major renovation and enhancement
project. Prior to the renovation, the space on the 3rd floor had been used as a library, only open to
visitors by appointment. We wanted to make it open to the public at all times, so we decided to use this
space for the new visible storage facility.
Slide – Luce Center overview
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. We have three collections in pneumatic drawers – portrait miniatures, medals, and
contemporary jewelry. Here, you can see some of the miniatures.
There is an information desk in the Center, which is staffed by museum staff all the days the museum is
open. We have an active schedule of public programs with at least one thing going on every day,
including scavenger hunts, sketching workshops, tours, and games.
Slide – kiosks
There is very little physical interpretation in the cases. For the paintings, we give you an abbreviated
tombstone with the title, date, artist’s name, and accession number, but for the objects we only give
you the accession number. This was so we could fit as many objects as possible into the cases.
You can access extended information on every single object and artists using the computer kiosks dotted
around the Center.
Slide – kiosk screen shots
There is an extended text label for every single object, a biography for every artist, and hundreds of
video and audio clips. You can zoom, locate, and collect every object, too.
Slide – 3D images
Some of the three dimensional objects in the Luce Center have detail on all sides, which is not possible
to see in the cases. We selected 20 objects and did a project to show them ‘in the round.’ We worked
with the Canadian company Synthescape to place the object on a turntable, then take high resolution
photographs at 5 degree increments. Synthescape then stitched these images together in Flash.
[link to demo on web site]
Slide – Fill the Gap
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 have not had huge participation, but the people that have contributed have submitted quality
suggestions. We’ve been posting roughly one gap per month, and have successfully filled six since the
Slide – Fill the Gap
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.
Slide – Analog Fill the Gap
Over the summer, we tried a different approach. This time, we picked a pool of 20 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 better participation, but took quite a lot of work to get it set up. It is no
longer a “real” project.
Slide – Audio Tour
Just last month, we launched an audio tour in the Luce Center. This seemed like an obvious interpretive
solution to me. 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 50 rogue stops. These are just the 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?”
Slide – Audio Tour, Rogue content
Here is an example of one of our rogue stops, by Bridget.
Slide – Ghosts of a Chance
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.
Slide – ARG definition
First, we had to figure out exactly what an ARG was. There are many definitions out there, and they are
Slide – ARG definition
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
Slide – Teaser
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.” […]
Slide – Teaser result
We received over 150 images of eyes and 250 phonecalls.
Slide – Clues in Press
Early press also helped with the game, as we were able to conceal clues in an ABC.com article and the
Slide – Narrative
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.
[play video clip]
Slide – Narrative, Museum support
The museum supported the story with blog posts, a press release, and staff interaction with Daisy and
Slide - Artifacts
As they learned more about the spirits, they revealed that they needed to hold an exhibition. So they
invited players to create a series of artifacts.
• We received 33 artifacts from 14 players
• High quality
• Both hardcore players and crafters participated in this aspect of the game.
• The Smithsonian brand may have put some people off: “When you are scribbling doodles to
write to some abstract character in a funny little game no-one will ever see, it’s easy to come up
with something. But when the SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION (spoken in big impressive voice) asks
you to submit a portrait or something, it’s a little more intimidating.”
Slide – On-line artifacts
The artifacts were temporarily catalogued into the collection. Participants wrote their own labels, which
were also included on-line.
Slide – Mini Events
To further support the story…
• NMNH – tour of the anthropology department with Dr. David Hunt
Forensic evaluation of human remains – fake police reports
Skeletons belonged to two of the spirits
• Cemetery – tour of the Congressional Cemetery with Patrick Crowley, Chair of the Board of
Players saw ghostly figures in the distance flashing lights, found a flashlight and Morse-code key
in a tomb, started communicating with the figures – they wanted “rest.”
Slide – Final Event
Exhibition in the museum of all the player-created artifacts.
Alongside this one-day exhibition, players were tasked to complete a series of scavenger-hunt-like
quests in the museum. Six quests – one for each character.
• Remote players created a code for us, based on a nineteenth century quilt
• 244 people played, 70 people completed all 6 quests
• Fastest team to finish took three hours, average time in museum was 3-4 hours.
Who played? Several people who had created artifacts, and several people who had been following the
story. Many people, however, just stumbled upon the game. It was a satisfying experience either way.
For anyone who couldn’t attend – we posted an epilogue on the web site.
“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
“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
Slide – Ongoing game
Created a shorter version of the final event for the museum to run on a recurring basis
Slide – Ongoing game
Over 1,200 people have played this since we started it in December
Goal to change the perception of art museums among teenagers
Slide - Evaluation
• Goal: To find out which aspects of the game were the most engaging.
• Result: Overall, participants enjoyed the opportunity to explore the museum and they liked the
variety of clues, tasks, and artworks that the game incorporated. With specific tasks, the stone
code around the Georgia Stele sculpture was by far the favorite.
Slide - Evaluation
• Goal: To find out if the game would make visitors more likely to visit the museum again.
• Result: Only 25% of participants had visited the museum before. After the game, 68% of
participants said they would definitely come again.
Slide - Evaluation
• Goal: To find out if the game altered visitors’ perspectives on how “fun” the museum is.
• Result: Participants gave the museum very high ratings with 44% giving it the maximum score of
seven, and 85% giving it a score of five or more.
Slide – PHEON
We are working with the game designers who created CityMystery on a new Alternate Reality Game
named PHEON, which will be played across more than one institution. Players fulfill unusual missions in
order to win points and progress through the game. The unique element of this game is that each
institution will be able to customize their missions in order to meet specific strategic goals. We will be
able to use these missions to promote exhibitions, assist in our digitization efforts, or solicit content
Slide – Partnership with RIT
We have just begun a partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology to create on-line games
that will improve the accessibility of our collections. The goals of this project include-
Influence player attitudes towards museum collections and objects
Convince non-visitors to visit
Change the way visitors interact with exhibits
Improve visitor understanding of collections and operations
Currently, we are exploring the idea of creating an on-line world in which the player gains points by
collecting, conserving, and exhibiting artworks. A game like this might be played through a social
network such as Facebook. A similar game, “Farmville,” in which players run their own farms has almost
62 million active players.
Slide – Contact me