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.
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. The Center opened on July 1, 2006, along with the newly renovated museum building. It displays more than 3,300 works from the permanent collection in 64 glass cases and 56 pneumatic drawers.
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.
We run a variety of ongoing public programs in the Luce Center. These include: A weekly sketching workshop Scavenger hunts Art + Coffee tours Tales for Tots: a new program for kids ages 3-5
In February 2009, 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.
We wanted to let players know about our upcoming game and the game designers told us that the best place to do this would be at the ARGFest-o-Con event in Boston. They also told us that we needed to do something unusual in order to catch the attention of the attendees. They hired national-level body Craig Torres and tattooed his chest and back with henna tattoos. Within the design was an artwork from our collection and the word’s “Luce’s Lover’s Eye.” When you googled that phrase, the first result that appeared was the object page on our web site. Within 4 hours, photos of Craig were on Flickr, and players had started a discussion thread on Unfiction. “ You know, in thinking about it, this doesn't make any sense... Why would the Smithsonian send a stripper to a place like ARGFest to get this going? I mean, think about it, a borderline government agency sending a stripper to a convention in a hotel? That would be front page news on The Drudge Report!”
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 ABC.com 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. That the museum would allow essentially fake artifacts to be included in the master database, even temporarily, really demonstrated their willingness to support the game’s narrative. This element really inspired players to participate.
Final Event:- 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: 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…
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 Over 6,000 people played Ghosts of a Chance on-line, and 250 people participated in the final event.
Ongoing Game:- 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. Over 2,000 people have played these versions since we started them in December of 2008.
Evaluation:- In June 2009, we conducted a survey of players to try and evaluate the game’s value. We found that:- Every single player, no matter what age, remembered at least one artwork from the game and could describe it in detail. When asked if they would visit the museum again, 68% of players said that they definitely would, while an additional 22% said that they might. When asked to rate how “fun” the museum is out of seven, 85% of players gave us a rating of five or more, and 44% of players gave us the maximum rating of seven. The last question asked players how they would describe the game to a friend. We used all of the answers to create the word cloud that you see here. The larger the word, the more times it was used.
Other Experiments:- 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.
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. 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. At the core of the game is a narrative that tells the origin story of the PHEON talisman. As with the Ghosts of a Chance game, the narrative will be revealed in sections in response to players actions. The game will be mission-based, run through an on-line component. Through this web site, players will sign on, select and accept missions, interact with other players, and post content. The missions themselves may take place on-line or in the real world, but one of our goals is that location shouldn’t matter- you should be able to complete the missions wherever you are in the world. Players must upload content such as photos or video clips in order to prove that they have completed a mission and receive points. The game is designed so that multiple entities can participate, with each partner designing missions that relate specifically to their own target audiences and strategic goals.
Connect, Interact, and PLAY!
& Georgina Goodlander Interpretive Programs Manager Participatory Programs at the Smithsonian American Art Museum CONNECT INTERACT PLAY
<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>www.ghostsofachance.com
Luce staffers Tierney & Mary … Despite the glasses, Mr. Frothingham cannot see much. His cousin Una wears a monocle. Find her in 20th-c painting and reply with LUCE and the accession number. … Una is going to the train station and agrees to take you. Catch the train in case 37b and reply with LUCE followed by the accession number. … You see a nearby circus. To go to the circus, text LUCE followed by the accession number. To stay on the train, text LUCE STAY. … You find Uncle Jack, the ringleader. He tells you to find the elephant…
Luce Foundation Center: www.lucefoundationcenter.si.edu www.facebook.com/americanartluce Ghosts of a Chance Archive: www.ghostsofachance.com Full Evaluation of Ghosts of a Chance: http://tinyurl.com/goac-eval Fill the Gap on Flickr http://tinyurl.com/fillgap Contact: Georgina Goodlander GoodlanderG@si.edu Facebook/Twitter/Flickr: bathlander www.countedshadows.com www.slideshare.net/georginab